The Cambridge History of Australian Literature

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The Cambridge History of Australian Literature

the cambridge History of Australian Literature is the most comprehensive volume ever written on Australia’s national

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the cambridge

History of Australian Literature

The Cambridge History of Australian Literature is the most comprehensive volume ever written on Australia’s national literature. This authoritative guide spans Australian literary history from colonial origins, encompassing Indigenous and migrant literatures, as well as representations of Asia and the Pacific and the role of literary culture in modern Australian society. Bringing together a distinguished line-up of contributors, this volume explores each of the literary modes in an Australian context, including short story, poetry, children’s literature, drama, autobiography and fiction. This book is an essential reference for general readers and specialists alike. Peter Pierce is Honorary Research Fellow and Professor in the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University.


History of Australian Literature *


cambridge unive r sity pre ss Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, S˜ao Paulo, Delhi Cambridge University Press 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia Information on this title:  c Cambridge University Press 2009 First published 2009 Cover design by Marianna Berek–Lewis, 5678 Design Typeset by Aptara Corp Printed in China by C & C Offset Printing Co. Ltd. National Library of Australia Cataloguing in Publication data Pierce, Peter, 1950– The Cambridge history of Australian literature / Peter Pierce. 9780521881654 (hbk.) The Cambridge history of literature Includes index. Bibliography Australian literature – History and criticism. A820.9 ISBN 978-0-521-88165-4 hardback Reproduction and Communication for educational purposes The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10% of the pages of this publication, whichever is the greater, to be reproduced and/or communicated by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or the body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act. For details of the CAL licence for educational institutions contact: Copyright Agency Limited Level 15, 233 Castlereagh Street Sydney NSW 2000 Telephone: (02) 9394 7600 Facsimile: (02) 9394 7601 E-mail: [email protected] Reproduction and Communication for other purposes Except as permitted under the Act (for example a fair dealing for the purposes of study, research, criticism or review) no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, communicated or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission. All inquiries should be made to the publisher at the address above. Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Information regarding prices, travel timetables and other factual information given in this work are correct at the time of first printing but Cambridge University Press does not guarantee the accuracy of such information thereafter.


List of contributors viii Acknowledgements x

Introduction 1 peter pierce

from european imaginings of australia to the end of the colonial period 1 · Britain’s Australia 7 ken stewart

2 · The beginnings of literature in colonial Australia 34 elizabeth webby

3 · Early writings by Indigenous Australians 52 penny van toorn

4 · Australian colonial poetry, 1788–1888: Claiming the future, restoring the past 73 vivian smith

5 · No place for a book? Fiction in Australia to 1890 93 tanya dalziell

6 · Romantic aftermaths 118 richard lansdown

from the late nineteenth century to 1950 7 · Australia’s Australia 137 peter pierce



8 · The short story, 1890s to 1950 156 bruce bennett

9 · Australian drama, 1850–1950 180 peter f itzpatrick

10 · ‘New words come tripping slowly’: Poetry, popular culture and modernity, 1890–1950 199 peter kirkpatrick

11 · Australian fiction and the world republic of letters, 1890–1950 223 robert dixon

12 · Australia’s England, 1880–1950 255 peter morton

traverses 13 · Australian children’s literature 282 clare bradford

14 · Representations of Asia 303 robin gerster

15 · Autobiography 323 david m c cooey

16 · Riding on the ‘uncurl’d clouds’: The intersections of history and fiction 344 brian matthews

from 1950 to nearly now 17 · Publishing, patronage and cultural politics: Institutional changes in the field of Australian literature from 1950 360 david carter

18 · Theatre from 1950 391 katharine brisbane

19 · The short story since 1950 419 stephen torre



20 · Scribbling on the fringes: Post-1950 Australian poetry 452 dennis haskell

21 · Groups and mavericks 473 john kinsella

22 · The challenge of the novel: Australian fiction since 1950 498 susan lever

23 · The novel, the implicated reader and Australian literary cultures, 1950–2008 517 richard nile and jason ensor

24 · Nation, literature, location 549 philip mead Select bibliography 568 Index 585



bruce bennett is Emeritus Professor of English at the Australian Defence Force Academy, University of New South Wales. clare bradford is Professor of Literary Studies at Deakin University. katharine brisbane am, theatre writer and historian, was co-founder of Currency Press, the performing arts publisher, and its managing editor 1971–2001. david carter is Professor of English in the School of English, Media and Art History at the University of Queensland. tanya dalziell is Associate Professor of English and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia. robert dixon is Professor of Australian Literature at the University of Sydney. jason ensor is currently completing a PhD on British and Australian publishing and the novel. peter f itzpatrick is Emeritus Professor in the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies at Monash University. robin gerster is Associate Professor of English at Monash University. dennis haskell is Professor of English and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia. john kinsella is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and holds a professorial research position at the University of Western Australia. peter kirkpatrick is Senior Lecturer in Australian Literature at the University of Sydney. richard lansdown is Associate Professor of English at James Cook University. susan lever is Visiting Fellow at the Australian Defence Force Academy, University of New South Wales. david m c cooey is Associate Professor in Literary Studies at Deakin University. brian matthews is Professor of English at Flinders University. philip mead is Professor of Australian Literature at the University of Western Australia. peter morton is Associate Professor in the School of English, Creative Writing and Australian Studies at Flinders University. richard nile is Professor of Australian Studies and Director of the Institute for Media, Creative Arts and Technologies at Murdoch University.



peter pierce is Honorary Research Fellow and Professor at the National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University. vivian smith, poet and writer, was formerly Reader in English at the University of Sydney. ken stewart is Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Sydney. stephen torre is Senior Lecturer in English at James Cook University. penny van toorn was Senior Lecturer in the School of Letters, Art and Media at the University of Sydney. elizabeth webby is Emeritus Professor of Australian Literature at the University of Sydney.



My thanks go to all the contributors to this History of Australian Literature. Saying that, I would also like to pay tribute to those who for various reasons – good and grievous – were unable to participate. I hope that they will still delight in the book that has resulted from so many labours. Thanks to Kim Armitage, who commissioned this History for Cambridge University Press early in 2006, and to the other members of the Press with whom I have also worked. In these pages previous literary histories of Australia are given their due, but I would like to thank four long-standing mentors and friends: Laurie Hergenhan, Harry Heseltine, Brian Kiernan and Shirley Walker. I am particularly grateful to four co-contributors, John Kinsella, Richard Lansdown, Susan Lever and Philip Mead; to Peter Ujvari for his work with formatting the book and to Mary Howard for the index. Richard Nile and Jason Ensor would like to acknowledge the support of the Australian Research Council for their chapter. On behalf of all the contributors, I would also like to salute the support that they have received from libraries across the continent, and from their universities (if they still have them). Peter Pierce


Introduction peter pierce

At a Sydney rally in support of the federation of its colonies into the Commonwealth of Australia in 1897, one speaker proclaimed what was in effect an Australian version of manifest destiny. Edmund Barton (‘Toby Tosspot’ to his foes), who would become the first prime minister of that Commonwealth on 1 January 1901, grandly avowed that ‘For the first time in history, we have a nation for a continent, and a continent for a nation.’1 Local poets had been hailing such a prospect for decades, in windy, idealistic verse.2 The 1890s had seen – largely by means of the Sydney weekly magazine, the Bulletin – the rise to authority of some of the leading proto-nationalist, and still among the most enduring, figures in Australian literary history: Henry Lawson, A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson and Joseph Furphy principal among them. Such an emphasis on nation-making, particularly in the conflation of political and literary chronologies, would colour the writing of Australia’s literary history for generations. Indeed there were earlier instances. G. B. Barton’s two volumes of literary history were among the New South Wales offerings at the international exhibition of 1867 in Paris. Barton intended that they should be an earnest indication of the ‘progress’ so far achieved by colonial writers and colonial culture. In the 20th century, organic metaphors flourished in lieu of literary historical analysis: ‘The Novel Begins to Grow Up’ (Ewers, 1955); How Australian Literature Grew (Heddle and Millington, 1962); from ‘a period of infancy’ towards ‘national maturity’ (T. Inglis Moore, 1971). Coincidentally, there was an acrid critical division over the canon of Australian literature, and what kind of development it actually had to show, between radical nationalists and universalists, or cosmopolitans. Often these adversaries were poets and novelists, whose own work evaded such categories, even as they contributed to the melodramatic contest for the threatened corpus of the national literature.3 A summary of past literary historical yearnings can be bracing, for they now seem to be so far behind us. The brief of this Cambridge History of Australian Literature was not, explicitly, to be ‘new’, although everywhere – through scholarship and 1 Margaret Rutledge, ‘Barton, Sir Edmund’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 7, MUP, 1979. 2 See section on Federation poems in Richard Jordan and Peter Pierce, The Poets’ Discovery: Nineteenth-Century Australia in Verse, MUP, 1990. 3 Peter Pierce, ‘Forms of Literary History’, in Laurie Hergenhan (ed.), The Penguin New Literary History of Australia, Penguin, 1988.


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criticism – it is. Nor – even as it takes its place in a series of national literary histories (Spanish and German and Canadian among others) – is its brief the kind of national project to which earlier Australian literary historians subscribed. What is ‘national’ in the national literature is, however, debated throughout this book. Australia’s post-settlement history differs starkly from those of two other countries whose literatures were principally written in English. Ireland was England’s oldest and bitterest colony, and centuries of oppression and resistance, together with geographical proximity, meant that the relationship was compacted of defiant independence and resentful submission. Long ago, Canada was separated from the other British North American colonies, but its writers have ever been as alert to the cultural power of the neighbouring United States as to their cultural heritage from Britain. By contrast, Australian authors have been troubled by their remoteness, a sense of exile created by what was at first an inconceivable distance from Britain, and guilt at the means by which European settlers took possession of the continent. Exile and doubtful tenure were not the only notes struck, of course. Literary proclamations of Australia’s chance to make a fresh beginning, its freedom from what Henry Lawson called ‘old world errors, and wrongs and lies / Making a hell in a Paradise’, the utopian possibilities that manifested themselves can be heard as well. Editors Margaret Kelleher and Philip O’Leary, in their introduction to the twovolume Cambridge History of Irish Literature, state that their aim was to construct ‘an authoritative chronological history’.4 Neither adjective neatly fits the Australian counterpart. For a start, the contributors are alert to the obeisances, but also to the manifold challenges to claims of authority in Australia. They witness here to the larrikin energies, the effusive self-publicity, the melancholy grandeur and the sardonic humour that all, in happy contradiction, distinguish Australian literature. The evidence with which they deal makes authoritative judgments less enticing and true to the history of this literature than provisional ones. That is not to say that the contributors in this History do not bring the authority of their research and imagination to their chapters. Yet each author knows that the whole work is destined, like its predecessors, to become part of the chequered larger history of Australian literary histories. They are conscious of responding to a particular cultural moment. Perhaps it is one in which, entering an international series such as this from Cambridge University Press, Australian literature can announce itself firmly and unapologetically. At the same time the writers of this History also know that this is domestically (if not internationally) a time of crisis for the teaching of Australian literature in schools and universities. The number of texts taught, courses mounted, books in print are reckoned to be in decline; the institutional future of Australian literature to be in doubt. Crucial, if implicit, in the aim of this History is to show why such a process should be resisted and reversed. 4 Margaret Keller and Philip O’Leary (eds), The Cambridge History of Irish Literature, CUP, 2006.



In returning to the place of The Cambridge History of Australian Literature in the field of national literary histories, let two examples suffice. When the poet, publisher and critic Geoffrey Dutton edited The Literature of Australia for Penguin in its first and revised versions (1964 and 1976), it met such a dammed-up demand among school and tertiary students and teachers of Australian literature that its sales topped 60,000. In 1988, to coincide with the bicentenary of the European settlement of Australia, Laurie Hergenhan edited The Penguin New Literary History of Australia. (Its sales would be a respectable one-tenth of Dutton’s. Some of its contributors have survived to write for this History.) While Dutton’s book had some general and contextual chapters, most dealt with individual authors. No-one had a chapter to herself in the ‘new’ Penguin history, leading literary critic Harry Heseltine to quip that ‘it was hard to see the trees for the wood’. In this Cambridge History of Australian Literature a balance has been struck between general and particular literary analyses, but at no stage was it explicitly sought or imposed. Contributors’ briefs were to be – if not authoritative – then certainly bold, and genuine literary-critical boldness requires a grasp of detail such as is shown everywhere in this History. It is, however, in large measure a chronological history, as are the other volumes in the Cambridge series. From that basis, an explanation of its internal divisions can proceed. The first part of the History takes the account of the national literature to the round figure of 1900, on the eve of Federation. It describes anticipations of Australia, the influence of Romanticism, the complex transportation – not only of felons, their guardians and free settlers – but of the cultural baggage of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Aboriginal Australians do not stand at the beginning of this section, but later, as they make their responses, many of them literary, to the catastrophic upheaval of their lives. When H. M. Green reached the end of the Fourth (and last) Period of his two-volume A History of Australian Literature Pure and Applied (1961) – the longest, solely-authored work of Australian, or of most other, literary histories – he decided on 1950 as his terminal date. In an enervated exhalation regarding this end-point, Green said, ‘we seem to be somewhere near it now, but that is almost all that can be at present said’. Green’s choice of date has been observed here as well, taking The Cambridge History of Australian Literature halfway through its length and into a post-war world. Of course many authors in this second section reappear in the fourth, which follows Australian literary history from 1950 until very near the present. In between is a shorter third section, called ‘Traverses’, because the four chapters range across the whole period in which literature has been written in Australia. Their subjects, successively, are children’s literature, perceptions of Asia, autobiography, and the intersections of fiction and history. In keeping with the practice of other chapters in the History, chronological surveys are wedded to strongly argued and defended arguments about the literature in question. Each chapter in ‘Traverses’ freely crosses supposed boundaries of genre, but that is also the case in the chapters that nominally


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concentrate on poetry, the novel, short fiction and drama in the other three parts. Thus what appear to be conventional generic denominations contain free-ranging, expansive and revisionist literary interpretations. While the 1988 Penguin literary history had chapters dedicated to women’s and to war literature, those subjects have been folded into other chapters here. Such partitions now seem unnecessary. What is obviously novel in this History is the inclusion of three chapters whose blunt titles draw attention to the crucial business that they address. ‘Britain’s Australia’ dissects the imaginings of the place to which European settlers came, and then its successive reformations for readers both in Britain and Australia. ‘Australia’s Australia’ examines the continuing importance of a parochial strain in the national literature, especially between the world wars – in recoil from the first of them, and in apprehension of the second. Finally, ‘Australia’s England’ is an analysis of the appropriations of that country by Australian authors, the careers that they sought there and the consequent enlivening or crushing of their art. In this chapter, and indeed throughout the History, the material conditions in which literary works were written, published, marketed are always prominent matters of concern. That is, literary and book history as practised here amounts to a form of social history that is beguiling, dense and complex. As the chapter titles just mentioned indicate, there is a prevailing dialectic in the History between the impulses, among works and writers surveyed, to forge a distinctively Australian literature and the deep connection to British cultural heritage; perhaps – to put things in a different way – between parochialism and cosmopolitanism. Yet individual cases show that things were not so simple. From her rural cottage at Greenmount, outside Perth, Katharine Susannah Prichard ventured to the Soviet Union to laud communism in The Real Russia (1934). Nettie and Vance Palmer, tenants of Prichard’s in the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne, believed that this was a place where a ‘local patriotism’ might develop, yet regularly and purposefully they visited England, at once to foster their own careers and the national literature. Ensconced next to the Red Beret pub at Redlynch beneath the rain forest near Cairns for most of his later life, Xavier Herbert chose to die as close to the centre of the continent as he could manage, at Alice Springs. However, much of the crucial rewriting of his mock-epic of northern Australia, Capricornia (1938), had in fact been done during years spent in London. After studying European languages at Cambridge, followed by war service in the Middle East, Patrick White tossed up between settling in Europe or the United States – and chose Australia. He reversed the post-war pattern of expatriation and returned to his home country, albeit as a self-proclaimed Prodigal Son. Rosa Praed, most of whose work continued to be set in her fictionalised version of the colonial Queensland that she had known in her youth, spent the second half of her life in England, embracing hopes of reincarnation and making her third marriage, to the only Muslim peer in the House of Lords. The commerce between hemispheres for Australian writers (whether in person or through agents, and circumstances permitting) has always been notable, though in



individual cases temporary or permanent, rewarding or frustrating. The story of the publication of their work is as likely to be an international as a national one, although as chapters in this History explore, the conditions of overseas publication have varied significantly. What would have delighted some of these authors (such as the Palmers) and disgusted others (White, surely) was the manner in which successive Australian governments, during at least the last three decades, have employed the products of the national literature as a means of cultural diplomacy. Though the future of this tactic is uncertain, the teaching and criticism of Australian literature, and the translation of a number of its texts into other languages, have spread to dozens of countries around the world. The journal Antipodes has been published by the American Association for Australian Literary Studies since 1987. Its sponsors include the Literature Board of the Australia Council and the Cultural Relations branch of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Across the Atlantic, the European Australian Studies Association holds bi-annual conferences and publishes their proceedings. Future histories of Australian literature will have to take fuller account of this latest of its engagements in, and entanglements with a wider literary world. That is also to say that, while a nationalist interpretation of Australian literary in various guises has sometimes seemed hegemonic (not least in inveigling opponents into its terms of debate), this interpretation has always been contested or made besides the point in other ways. In 1930, in An Outline of Australian Literature, Green declared that ‘every work which can be considered a genuine expression of any aspects of Australian characteristics or ideals has been treated as Australian’. Those ‘characteristics’ markedly and closely anticipated Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend (1958), and for Green included ‘an independence of spirit, a kind of humorous disillusion, a careless willingness to take a risk, a slightly sardonic good nature and a certain underlying hardness of texture’. It is easy to criticise the circularity of Green’s argument, but worth remembering that his expansive notion of what is ‘literature’ for literary historical purposes (discussed in sprightlier fashion in his neglected Australian Literature: 1900–1950, 1951) has been taken as read by most recent large-scale literary histories of Australia, and elsewhere. If here Green is open, he is also hermetic. Australian literature is that which is ‘Australian’. Yet he admits evidence to contradict himself. Christopher Brennan, the most Eurocentric of Australian poets, is ‘indeed the most important poet that Australia has yet produced’. For Green knew, as he wrote in 1951, ‘that the world had become more difficult and dangerous, and that Australia was an inescapable part of it’. His reputation as a literary historian has long languished, and to burnish it now may seem only to encourage the return of the repressed, but the compendiousness of his enterprise, the contradictions with which he struggled and honestly voiced, are a caution to literary historians three and four generations after him. Green was aware of what Philip Mead calls, in his chapter, ‘the rage for nation’ in Australia, the desire by all means to legitimise


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and unify the polity of this continent, settled from a continent of divided polities, Europe. In Networked Language: Culture and History in Australian Poetry (2008), Mead elaborated on the ‘powerful instincts of national definition that want to settle the question of identity and language, literally, and once and for all, to act as though it was settled from the beginning’. Literature has, as we have seen, been enlisted into the business of nation-building. Yet Mead’s chapter in this History has been placed last because it points to other ways in which Australian writers have thought of where they have found themselves: ‘place, environment and locale have frequently been the most profoundly formative influence on their imaginative work’. Moreover, we might remark, Australia and the Australian nation were not necessarily the same, or equally desirable, notions for our writers. This literary history of Australia (the political, social, geographical and imagined entity) ends with an account of its fissuring into regions on the one hand and into an unburdened place in world literature on the other. Perhaps neither is surprising for authors who have been gifted with a nation for a continent, a continent for a nation. In any case, such abstractions – however passionately felt and contested – did not persistently impinge upon the creative occupation of the many writers whose works and lives (variously solitary and sociable) form this history. Let us leave these authors now, as we will find them throughout The Cambridge History of Australian Literature – travelling, corresponding, settling and uprooting themselves, writing, reading, quarrelling and dreaming.



Britain’s Australia ken stewart

Britain was never the ‘onlie begetter’ of Australia or its literature; but colonised Australia has always been, in some sense and degree, British. It is the nature of the relationship, not the fact of it, that appears complex, difficult to define, and dynamic. P. R Stephensen, in one of the less controversial contentions in The Foundations of Culture in Australia (1936), insisted that Australian culture is both derivative and local; that distinctive non-Aboriginal Australianness is, whatever else, a variant and product of Britishness. Especially in relation to the period before popular and governmental endorsement of a multicultural Australian nation, that suggestion may not seem contentious; and yet the move from a colonial relationship with Britain towards nationhood has influenced many literary nationalists to deny or disown Britishness; or to define ‘Australianness’ by jettisoning certain unwanted aspects of ‘Britishness’ or ‘Englishness’, while valorising as ‘Australian’ other preferred traits. In The Australian Legend (1958), for example, Russel Ward uses the words English and British primarily to indicate middle- or upper-class Englishness, and thereby erases cockney and north country Englishness from his discourse. Paradoxically, he demonstrates thoroughly the cultural ‘transmission’ of a particular English literary heritage, a proletarian one, within colonial Australian literature and culture; but he is unwilling to label this process too obviously as English or British, since he perceives a discrete and distinctive Australianness as excluding Britishness. For A. A. Phillips (in The Australian Tradition, 1958) a key ‘Australian’ quality is the ‘democratic’, whereas Englishness is defined in relation to class hierarchy. The Marston currency lads in Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms (1888) are, ideologically and linguistically, on the way to gaining the Australian-ness that Henry Lawson’s typical characters later achieve, but squatter Falkland of the colonial gentry is more ‘English’. This class paradigm has exercised inescapable cultural power, understandably when it is remembered that Australia claims to be one of the world’s oldest current democracies. Despite the rejection by recent commentators of the methodologies and the particular brands of nationalism of Ward and of Phillips, a similar image of ‘British’ and ‘Australian’ necessarily persists. Indeed, it may be encouraged by the use of constructs such as Benedict Anderson’s national ‘imaginary’ (in Imagined Communities, 1983), which sets up a preferred and consensual ideal nation, or by those post-colonial theories that


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define an ideological or political opposition between Britain as imperial colonising agent and Australia and its settlers as a ‘colonised’ other. In the late 19th century many settlers began to define ‘Australia’, the ‘coming nation’, as an Andersonian ‘imaginary’: they opted for a construct of nationality not yet validated by political realities or an actual constitution, while maintaining, perhaps covertly, various forms of behaviour inconsistent with new national ideals. In this context, the comparison between ‘new’ and ‘old’ was inevitably unfavourable to Britishness. In other contexts – where for example an allegiance to Britain was inseparable from most Australian nationalisms, as the Great War – rejection of the ‘Britishness’ of Australia was insupportable. This chapter seeks to discuss British (especially English) literature, ideas and literary conventions in a way that underlines their pre-emptive importance for colonial Australian writing, while acknowledging the possibility of their reconstitution or reformation in local and colonial conditions, and also within international, imperial, or global contexts that bear upon the British-colonial connection. The possibility too that the 19th-century colonial literature affects British culture will not be overlooked.

Imaginary Australia: Terra Australis Before white settlement of Australia, Europeans imagined or conjectured a territory south of the equator of unknown size and shape. Its position was often believed to be either adjacent to Java, or near Cape Horn. Because the south land was ‘Incognita’ (a term used on some but not all maps and narratives), Terra Australis could be depicted diversely according to one’s purpose. Some narratives sought a detailed verisimilitude, scientifically consistent with the known world; some provided obvious escapist fantasy, designedly incredible; some offered frighteningly or wondrously fabricated tales to induce the credulous into belief (or at least suspended disbelief) in gothic monsters, giant birds and mythical animals. Others aimed at utopian or allegorical constructions, whether political or national, moral or metaphysical in focus; and a few were satirically critical of the known world, directing the reader’s attention away from any postulated actual southern site towards Europe itself. The most brilliant satire was Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726, 1735). It was apparently positioned deliberately to create a nowhere-land effect in four uncharted regions of the actual world, two of which, Lilliput and the land of the Houyhnhnms, later turned out to be in or near Australia. The depiction of Terra Australis as ‘mediaeval’ or ‘modern’, ‘fabulous’ or empirically ‘scientific’, is well illustrated by Geraldine Barnes in her discussion of contradictions in the narratives of the Dutch explorer William Dampier. In some contexts Dampier chose to display his ‘scientific’ credentials in careful descriptions of flora, fauna, topography and the Aboriginal people; or if motivated ‘imaginatively’, or commercially by the saleability of Mandevillean travellers’ tales, he could provide monsters and marvels to order, ‘indirectly confirming medieval constructions of race by translating them into empirical evidence’.


Britain’s Australia

Just as Columbus drew on tropes of paradise and romance to describe the wonders of Hispaniola, so Dampier drew upon medieval notions of the antipodes and the monstrous races to describe the hellish horrors of New Holland, with effects that would shape perceptions of Australia and Australians for the next three hundred years.1

Especially from the point of view of indigenous peoples, the grab for an African imaginary is comparable. As Chinua Achebe has famously suggested in his attack on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), Africa has been similarly portrayed as a ‘metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognisable humanity into which the wandering European enters at his peril’.2

Country without city: before gold The discovery of Australia by British writers did not necessarily entail its literal, accurate, or scientific representation; it persists as a metaphysical trope or imaginary wonderland in verse fiction and drama to the present day. Both Enlightenment and medieval imaginary narratives serve as alternative prototypes. For example Lady Mary Fox, illegitimate daughter of William IV, wrote An Account of an Expedition to the Interior of New Holland (1837); it is difficult to discover whether she knew of the French antecedents 200 years earlier to her gothicised feminist utopian fictional treatise. Even Lewis Carroll’s Alice plummets lightly down a hole to, or perhaps past, an Australian antipodes. Writers who adhered to certain discourses of ‘Enlightenment’ were disciplined by requirements of empirical accuracy: and the famous narratives of James Cook, Arthur Phillip, John Hunter, Watkin Tench, Charles Darwin and other navigators and explorers that obey this authority contribute to the revered ‘annals of science’. Literary historians, however, while obliged to respect such writings, usually find something else (particularly in Cook, Tench and Darwin) that enlivens the prose, yet is not especially scientific; or (as in the case of Sir Joseph Banks) they find the writing dull. Cook is admired for his unconscious autobiographical revelation of the extraordinary skills of self-control, benevolence, and sheer competence and wisdom, later recognised in Kenneth Slessor’s poem ‘Five Visions of Captain Cook’. In Tench the added dimension includes a wryness and moral charity, an imaginative delight in the novelty of local realities, and compassionate recognition of human similarities as well as exotic differences between Aborigines and Europeans. Colonial immigrants did not simply bring literature to Australia as ‘cultural baggage’; a genie escaped from the baggage to create a ‘literary culture’, a broad and unconsciously employed heteroglossia that represented forces and ideas beyond the migrant’s material individuality. European, American, Asian and Aboriginal influences, from works and dialogue, accompanied and reshaped British negotiations with local topography, climate, 1 From the abstract of a paper sponsored by ARC Network for Early European Research, 2–3 November, 2006. See also G. Barnes and A. Mitchell, in S. Trigg (ed.), Medievalism and the Gothic in Australian Culture, MUP, 2005. 2 Chinua Achebe, ‘An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness’, Massachusetts Review, 18 (1973).


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flora, fauna and Indigenous and white culture. Literature was obliged to fumble with the demands that Australia made on English words, and to refashion its lens to cope with blur. Such a goal could never be realised quickly, unanimously, and absolutely; but the integrity of the attempts helped to create and individuate a colonial literary culture. For example, any traditional European distinction within Australia between City and Country was impossible to apply in Australia before about 1840, since no city existed. Erasmus Darwin and others could project a city of the future (his ‘proud arch, colossus-like’3 bestrode the harbour in Sydney some 150 years later), but could not represent an unimagined example from the present or past. Even Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne were at first normally suffixed with the word ‘Town’, as if to reinforce their non-metropolitan status and colonial difference. If a colonial Ben Jonson were to apostrophise Penshurst or Kenilworth, he would find himself addressing an outlying small settlement or sheep station. Whether turretless or factitiously castellated, whether rough or elegantly hospitable, a homestead was never totally a country castle or manor; and its ‘lord’, the squatter, was a blurred or contradictory counterpart of the quasiaristocratic type. Literary representations of the squatter (and his castle) vary ambiguously; they respond as much to demands of ‘transplanted’ generic conventions and snobbish or romantic escapism, as to practical observation of actual colonial squattocracy. Henry Kingsley and Boldrewood prefer, in their masculine romances, to depict their squatters as typically leonine and judicious, paragons of English decency and quasi-aristocratic good taste; whereas Anthony Trollope’s realism in Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1874) uncovers paradoxical financial and social colonial anxieties, and the laborious and frustrating daily grind of squatting life. Joseph Furphy later recognised the squatters of the Victorian period in two forms: as gentlemanly, but never democratic, types (such as his Stewart); and as rapaciously cruel, ill-dressed scrooges, like the actual but legendary ‘Hungry’ Tyson and ‘Big’ Clarke. (There were apparently at least three ‘Big’ Clark(e)s in colonial Victoria, including one known also as ‘Moneyed’ Clarke.) Arguably, the term ‘bush’, used as early as the 18th century to qualify English ‘country’, gained colonial currency because the English word was not by itself sufficiently useful or viable in a largely unsettled, cityless, non-English, non-aristocratic environment. Colonial ‘writing’ (vocally transmitted and published broadside material and newspapers, as well as fiction and poetry) spread and reinforced the use of such vernacular terms. Although these terms entrenched new local meanings, they also conveyed a tension with the English ‘original’. The conventions and ideology that shape and inform the most respected ‘elitist’ literature in Australia between white settlement in 1788 and the gold rushes of 1851 are those of British neoclassicism. In a new settlement literature has a patriotic role: to 3 Erasmus Darwin, ‘Visit of Hope to Sydney Cove, Near Botany Bay’, The Economy of Vegetation, 1792 (written 1789).


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announce and celebrate the civilisation of Australian ‘wilds’, and the imperial importation of models of culture that demonstrate universal laws. Ostensibly, such literature claims colonised space as part of a greater imperium; it elicits pride or elation by erasing or subordinating local distractions or liabilities. Remoteness has no place within a scheme of universal order, unless perhaps it is to signify future achievement. The best account of literary neoclassicism in Australia is still Robert Dixon’s The Course of Empire (1986), which examines its primacy in painting, architecture and accounts of exploration; it also finds it in the verse, for example, of Michael Massey Robinson, in the ‘epic’ poetry of Wentworth, and in fiction that culminates, sometimes ambiguously, in Kingsley’s The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859). Settlement, however, immediately brought challenges to neoclassical orthodoxies from ‘home’ as well as from within the new community. Robert Southey’s Botany Bay Eclogues, published in 1793 when Port Jackson was five years old and the poet himself just 19, employed neoclassical forms to undermine their associated ideology. His attack was as radical, and Romantic, as that of his friends Coleridge and Wordsworth on 18th-century poetic diction. The penal colony becomes for Southey a potential Arcady not for gentlemen and ladies but for the abused quasi-Blakean victims of urbanisation, industrialism, imperialism, and (in the case of the ‘female transport’ Elinor) men. The subversive pastoral dream that Southey articulates anticipates various later Australian romantic literary and political ‘rebellions’: Charles Harpur’s colonial republicanism, and romantic perceptions of ‘nature’; the Arcadianism of later ‘working men’s paradise’ immigration schemes and pastoral fictions; and the convict or Australian felon as hero or victim in ballads and fiction, are just three. Stuart Curran’s comment, in relation to English literature, that ‘Southey’s pastorals constitute a watershed in the history of the genre’4 equally illuminates Australian writing. Another local anxiety was the perception – not unlikely at the best of times, but probable when reading dutiful public odes – that these trumpetings of the official view, these strivings for effect in an undeniably distant, convict colony, actually drew attention, through their absence in the verse, to unpleasant colonial realities themselves: to privation, separation, loss, and the mediocrity of local poetry. The Augustan conventions of Popean and Swiftian satire were appropriated by William Forster, William Wills, Harpur, Henry Kendall and others to create perhaps the finest of all colonial quasineoclassical verse. ‘Appropriated’, however, is a key term here, since the ideological axioms of the patriotic discourse are often missing. The beautiful and piercing heroic couplets, together with other conventions, are deployed not to endorse or confirm an old order, Roman or British, but perhaps to adumbrate a new cultivated ideal and to address vengefully the follies of particular local enemies. Accompanying and paralleling Southey’s example, but extending beyond it for decades, is the peculiar importance as poet and theorist of William Wordsworth. It 4 Stuart Curran, Poetic Form and British Romanticism, OUP, 1986, p. 199.


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is tempting but misleading to claim without qualification that Wordsworth’s poems and prefaces promoted the ballad form (as Southey transformed the pastoral), and the poeticised democratic ‘language of men’, and made them suitable vehicles for colonial adaptation and local transformation; and that his focus on natural landscape was especially pertinent to the local superabundance of it. Southey’s use of the traditional ‘aristocratic’ ballad was certainly less suitable for colonial democrats than those, also employed by Wordsworth, dealing with outlawry and rebels; and there was no need for Australian balladists, particularly the Irish, to read Wordsworth in order to find models. More importantly, Wordsworth became increasingly, for Australian readers and poets, a guarantor of taste and an authority to endorse or to challenge. As an anti-neoclassical role model, he was explicit as well as exemplary: he aimed to ascertain, he wrote in the 1800 Preface to Lyrical Ballads, ‘how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure’, and warned that ‘readers accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers [will] look round for poetry’ of their kind without satisfaction. Harpur, it appears, modelled his own ‘notes’ and commentary as well as his verse style on this kind of fabricated rustic curtness and plainness, but claimed that Wordsworth himself (and certainly the ‘townie’ Tennyson) had to be relieved of the ‘namby pamby’ element and adapted further to colonial conditions. Harpur began writing in the 1830s, but gained more public recognition after the 1850s gold rushes. A major difference between the poets is their primary perspective on the rural past. For Wordsworth, abbeys, castles and ‘folk’ characters (the leech gatherer, the solitary reaper) are guarantors of its sanctity and traditional value. For Harpur, deprived of this possibility in a land recently occupied by white settlers, the wilds are sparsely inhabited by distantly observed, vaguely defined white settlers, sometimes with names like ‘Egremont’, who appear necessarily small, like feral elves, against a backdrop of natural turbulence and expanse. The artificiality is not necessarily ineffective: but it does make Harpur’s settings appear in some poems closer to those of an imaginary world. In other poems, such as ‘A Midsummer Noon in the Australian Forest’, the ‘real’ setting is literally untouched by immigrants: the English associations of ‘a midsummer night’s dream’ undergo antipodean semantic inversions as the daytime trance reveals an older and primeval past and virtually untrodden natural landscape. The gold rushes changed both the Australian colonial identity and the preoccupations and infrastructure of literary culture. The goldfields themselves resembled rough moving cities rather than lonely pastoral outposts. The published non-fictional accounts of hundreds of (mainly British) diggers and travellers established a highly literary genre of educative entertainment, now neglected; it complemented idealised narratives of the adventure romance, and emphasised pain, drudgery, failure, natural ugliness and social excess as well as camaraderie and natural beauty. When many years later Henry Handel Richardson claimed some originality for her attempt to write of one of the ‘failures’ in The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (1930), she was obviously omitting from consideration


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these non-fictional visitors’ narratives, which she herself used as historical sources. The literariness and quality of these genre pieces, particularly their use of the conventions of set-piece description and travel writing, are still neglected by literary critics, and by historians who deploy them simply as tropeless ‘documentary’ evidence (see Chapter 5). In some respects, too, these works anticipate the later focus on urban literature, not only because cities and towns are now explored, but also because the goldfields experience, and the infrastructure of its entertainments, conflicts, crowds, daily routine and legal controls, are revealed as themselves quasi-urban. By the 1880s British immigrants, and visiting novelists, poets and journalists, had adopted and introduced urban ‘presence’ and preoccupations into Australian literature. The new focus also redefined earlier perspectives on pastoral operations and wilderness in constructions of the ‘bush’ and the ‘outback’. Catherine Spence, Marcus Clarke, Ada Cambridge, Anthony Trollope, Tasma and other contemporaries examine the multifarious dimensions of urban experience. The love–hate of the inured English Victorian urban writer is now colonialised, manifesting itself in displays of both awe and loathing for the city, and contrariwise for the country and outback. Victorian antiurban sentiment, deriving from earlier English Romanticism, is sometimes projected into the incipient bush nationalism that was demagogically let loose by the Bulletin, and particularly A. B. Paterson in 1889 in ‘Clancy of the Overflow’. The gold rushes and urban growth nourished the development of a panoply of British and European literary and cultural institutions. There were libraries, galleries, mechanics’ institutes, universities, the press, literary societies, and art schools, bookshops, working men’s clubs, women’s clubs, bohemian and elitist coteries, theatres – almost everything that London could offer (as literary visitors like Trollope, H. M. Hyndman, R. M. Twopeny, J. A. Froude, G. A. Sala, Mark Twain, R. L. Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling were likely to remark). Especially in Melbourne – by 1890 a cosmopolitan city of almost half a million people, one of the largest in the empire – both elitist and popular, both imperial and parochial manifestations of literary consumerism were colourfully prominent. But one commodity that could not in the colonial period be readily produced locally was the Author: not just a struggling Kendall, but an eminent and presiding Dickens or Tennyson. Authors of such stature never migrated (though Carlyle and Dickens thought about it), as to leave home was to depart from one’s literary and financial support base. Australian readers were not necessarily disturbed by the need to look to Britain for their great writers – indeed, the eventual canonisation of local authors was a goal of the same general search; but the process entailed, even unconsciously, a dependency and congruency that younger native-born writers, however ‘British’, could not entertain. The following discussion of the use by colonial writers and readers of British texts and literary authors is necessarily selective: space is not available to consider, for example, Shelley, Trollope, George Eliot, Irish balladists, and Robert Burns. Each of these exercised a discrete and different influence on colonial writers and audiences yet also,


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though to a lesser extent than the writers examined, contributed to more widely shared colonial preoccupations and discourses. As we shall see, after the growth of larger cities, and the spread of rural population, ‘Britain’s Australia’ was transformed by metropolitan and urban potentials.

Young and free: J. S. Mill John Stuart Mill, the principal advocate of liberalism and a modified utilitarianism, had taken a close interest in the Australian colonies since the early 1830s when he and his mentor Jeremy Bentham supported Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s proposals for immigration. He had sought then to create an agrarian labouring class, arguing (despite his usual utilitarian classical economics and support for Ricardo) that unless the price of land were initially fixed by governments at a level out of the reach of many immigrants, the cost of labour would be too high to sustain a productive economy. Nevertheless, his interest in de Tocqueville’s account of American democracy, and his support of colonial immigration, self-help schemes and the creation of a ‘prosperous’ working class, allied him with liberal radicals who thought and wrote optimistically about Australian pastoral opportunities and ‘democracy’. Chartism, the European revolutions of 1848 and their spillover into gold rush immigration, the American rushes of 1849, and colonial goldfield history after 1851 helped to shape the literary and intellectual outlook and writings of a high proportion of literary Australian immigrants and sojourners of the 1850s. Mill had published Principles of Political Economy in 1848. During the gold rushes, while writing Utilitarianism and On Liberty, he was a controversial public intellectual who wrote regularly in the leading British newspapers and journals on economic, political, legal, social, foreign and current affairs, and on his own political and ethical principles. He was well known personally as well as in print by many of the professional intelligentsia who started to develop a colonial literary culture in the 1850s, particularly those who met in intellectual societies. His defence of various ‘freedoms’ (of speech, conscience, ‘information’ and ‘thought’) was an essential part of the cultural baggage of the immigrant lawyers who defended the Eureka rebels, and of some of the rebels themselves (particularly the Italian litterateur librettist Raffaello Carboni). Charles Gavan Duffy, a personal friend, had used Mill’s arguments in support of Irish political nationalism. R. H. Horne, the most celebrated poet to emigrate, knew him well, and had an array of ‘liberal’ credentials of his own (having fought Byronically against the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico); Frederick Sinnett, an early editor of Melbourne Punch and author of The Fiction Fields of Australia (1856), corresponded from Adelaide and Melbourne. On land owned by Arthur Hardy, brother of Mill’s (eventual) wife Harriet Taylor, the Glen Osmond Mechanics’ Institute was built: Mill and Harriet and her daughter donated about 100 books from their personal library.


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Mill should not be regarded as the sole champion of liberalism, or his colonial followers as learned exponents of his every twist of argument. But his authority, example and personal acquaintance were especially pertinent and attractive in colonies where ‘freedom’, together with sheer space, was becoming a defining quality of the ‘new’ country. For colonial Australia’s most controversial and colourful drama critic, J. E. Neild, Mill was the greatest of living philosophers; his work helped to define the essentials of ‘colonial’ culture as an independent entity by offering models and vindications of Neild’s own specifically ‘colonial’ critical practices. Neild believed, in Mill’s words, that the ‘first duty’ of a critic is ‘to follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead’.5 The expression of an opinion may never be ‘restrained’ without detriment to ‘mental freedom’. ‘Give me leave to speak my mind’, from Jaques in As You Like It, became the motto of Neild’s weekly column: conflict he considered, like Mill, healthier than ‘intellectual pacification’.6 In dramatic performance ‘tradition’ is useless unless examined and relevant: the ‘authority’ of convention must be discarded, particularly if ‘English’ usages are inapplicable in colonial circumstances. ‘Coloniophobia’ was Neild’s anticipatory neologism for ‘the cultural’; he saw it as not merely old-world snobbery, but also as an uncritical surrender of liberty to the false authority of the inappropriate or outmoded. Neild, like most of his literary contemporaries, could not put into practice the principles Mill enunciated in The Subjection of Women (1869), which the author himself could not totally master. When the brilliant Achurch–Carrington rendition of A Doll’s House, the first and greatest of the British productions, was performed in Melbourne immediately after the controversial London success, Neild was among the most vociferous to miss the point, cantankerously satirising Nora’s decision to leave her husband and children: ‘it is certain that to any competent psychopathologist the circumstance of a woman quitting her home at midnight to study ethics, would supply a substantial reason for certifying to her unsoundness of mind’.7 His colleague James Smith had advised J. C. Williamson to change the ending to ‘My darlings, I cannot leave you!’8 but Ibsen prevailed, along with an articulate band who acclaimed the play. The literary journalist, novelist and political activist Catherine Helen Spence corresponded with Mill and in 1865 met him, and later George Eliot, in London. Spence was at first not especially moved by claims for women’s suffrage because, like Mill himself, she wrongly found their implementation impracticable and utopian; but her writings reveal familiar Millian ‘democratic’ phraseology, later employed by the suffragists and Millian ‘disciples’ Rose Scott and Louisa Lawson. Spence’s most passionately pursued cause was Thomas Hare’s system of proportional representation, which she had discovered through Mill’s advocacy, though Millian axioms underlie her interest in democracy itself. She wrote a defence of Hare in the Melbourne Argus, a series of letters on the 5 John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and Other Essays (ed. John Gray), Oxford (World’s Classics series), 1991, p. 139. 6 Ibid., p. 38. 7 Australasian, 21 September 1889. 8 James Smith Papers, Mitchell Library, Sydney.


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subject for the Adelaide Register, and a pamphlet, A Plea for Pure Democracy (1859), all of which Mill read and discussed with her in correspondence before her visit, sending her as well gifts of early copies of Political Economy and The Subjection of Women. Spence supplemented her Millian principles with her Unitarian religion, which increasingly expressed itself, perhaps uncomfortably, in the utopianism of her later fiction and journalism; her commitment to ‘the soul’ allied her with the transcendentalism of Carlyle and Emerson. The contest between Mill and Carlyle in Britain and Australia is a latter-day and local manifestation of what Mill himself saw as that between ‘the lofty inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle’;9 frequently overshadowed in literary histories by local and nationalist impulses, it suffuses the entire colonial and literary scene, especially before the 1890s, but through Bernard O’Dowd and others in the later period as well. For Ada Cambridge, Mill dominates over Carlyle and transcendentalism in a contest that pervades much of her verse and fiction. On Liberty is virtually axiomatic for her, yet the problems and ironies it creates seem to make any triumph merely pyrrhic. Richard Delavel, the hero of A Marked Man (1890) and in some ways a counterpart of Cambridge herself, is ‘marked’ in diverse ways (characterised, targeted, scarred, recognised), but ironically reverses the Victorian ‘man of mark’ by his efforts and failures to establish himself as the unorthodox Millian ‘sovereign autonomous individual’. Trammelled by marriage and social convention, like J. S. Mill he rejects Oxford on the grounds that it forbids freedom of belief. Again like Mill, he is for years barred from the marriage he chooses until eventually ‘freed’ by a spouse’s death to enter a ‘companionate’ marriage with his invalid helpmate Constance, counterpart of the ‘constant’ Harriet Taylor Mill. ‘I was thinking of all she was to Mill through those best years of his life – what a different man he might have been without her – how much the world, as well as he, might have lost.’10 Richard Delavel’s harbourside ‘camp’ is ostensibly a site of freedom, and may be read metonymically as the new Australia that transcends the old and fustian Britain; but its optimistic potential is shaded and ambivalent. In reality the camp is a place to which escape is possible only fleetingly, and by removing oneself from society. Richard’s daughter Sue, a young ‘woman of the future’, is enthused, yet only in her naivety, for all her special liberal education. Cambridge is as aware as Mill that absolute freedom is impossible, though ‘undue’ interference may be undesirable; yet the hideaway itself seems, for the reader, idyllic, something like a child’s cubby-house rather than an indication of real or transcendental Australian potential. As Robert Dingley11 has observed, the ‘real ending . . . takes the form of a question to which the narrative provides no answer: “Oh, what does it all mean?” wailed Sue, in an anguish of bewilderment, overwhelmed by the terrible mysteries with which she was confronted’. 9 Mill,On Liberty, p. 29. 10 The parallels and quotation cited here are from Margaret Bradstock and Louise Wakeling, Rattling the Orthodoxies: A Life of Ada Cambridge, Penguin, 1991, p. 130 (and circa). 11 In Ken Stewart (ed.), The 1890s, UQP, 1996, p. 194.


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Educate and emigrate: Thomas Carlyle Thomas Carlyle’s neologisms and quips show at once the nature of an invective as widely heard in the colonies as in Britain. The ‘environment’, ‘cash-nexus’, ‘the dismal science’ (economics), ‘economic man’, ‘captains of industry’, the ‘sick society’ became as familiar to late 19th-century socialists and Marxists, the 20th-century Frankfurt school, and the 20th-century Greens, as to Carlyle’s contemporary antagonists of Industrialism, who lionised him in the 30 years or so after 1830. Especially before the gold rushes, Britain’s colonies (not only in Australia) became for Carlyle, and followers such as John Ruskin, targets for agrarian rebirth and the establishment of a worthy immigrant yeomanry. There was no point in waiting, no need to consider the claims of Indigenous ‘savages’; for the morally uncertain, imperialism was vindicated, made respectable and cleansed of the cheapness of ‘colonial adventure’ in popular fiction. Following the discovery of gold, the Australian colonies moved towards the kind of industrialism that distressed Carlyle in Britain. ‘The Age of Machinery’ (another of his coinages) took over the goldfields and the recently flourishing cities. Richardson’s Richard Mahony would have revered Carlyle: to both, the parvenu middle class, prey to the new Mammonism, seemed vulgar and gaudy, and anti-intellectual; capitalists and politicians had forgotten duty, spiritual and moral health, environmental beauty. Richardson in fact studied Carlyle at school, and discovered the seeds of German Romanticism before her expatriation to Germany, and became a Carlyle scholar long before her husband J. G. Robertson did. Carlyle’s colonial presence seemed almost literal. Many of his friends and acquaintances migrated to Australia after the gold rushes; reading groups and literary societies focused on his writings as a matter of literary propriety. Carlyle had supported Charles Gavan Duffy, Victorian premier, in the struggle against the political imprisonment of Young Ireland rebels (despite their differing opinions on the Irish question); Duffy was his friend and correspondent and became his biographer (Conversations with Carlyle, 1892). NSW Premier Henry Parkes, considered by the Carlyles more of a nuisance than a friend, was a correspondent and a visitor to the Chelsea house. Thomas Woolner, the pre-Raphaelite sculptor and poet turned gold-digger, had fashioned a celebrated Carlyle medallion and was a close friend. Such connections, and they are numerous, are not simply ‘interesting’: they confirm a close-knit personal link with England among a colonial literati whose most revered authors and ‘heroes’ were, inevitably in a small population, kinsfolk who remained at ‘home’. R. H. Horne, the most eminent poet among the gold rush immigrants, had known Carlyle as a quasi-paternal mentor over five years before his publication of Orion, the verse epic that suddenly raised Horne to major celebrity in 1842. Carlyle was profoundly impressed by the romantic study of the tension in heroic experience between the human urge towards action, immediate sensation and physical achievement on the one hand, and the need for cerebral thought and poetic


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imagination on the other; and Horne would have found similar themes in Carlyle’s writings. Following the succ`es d’estime of Orion, Horne collaborated with a publicly unknown, and by him unseen, confidante, the reclusive spinster Elizabeth Barrett, to write critical biographies of Carlyle, Dickens, and other contemporary figures, in essays collected as The New Spirit of the Age (1844). Their discussion of Carlyle publicly examines and emblazons the socially troubling antithesis between Carlyle’s transcendentalism and Bentham’s utilitarianism: ‘And from the beginning of the world, the two great principles of matter and spirit have combated – whether in man’s personality, between his flesh and the soul; or in his speculative life, between the practical and ideal; or in this form of mental expression, between science and poetry.’12 Bentham and Carlyle are seen as ideologically opposed combatants. Horne had personally known Bentham, and tended towards a Shelleyan idealist atheism, and Barrett was sceptical of ‘great’ heroes and thinkers; they were not unreservedly drawn to Carlyle’s side. Having assailed classical utilitarianism for its lack of a genuine aesthetic (‘an indifference to poetry and the fine arts except as light amusements’), they attacked both the duplicity of Carlyle’s attitude towards Christian orthodoxy, which they correctly saw as rejection masquerading as acquiescence, and the irrelevancy in practical terms of the Carlylean creed. What good was ‘soul’ as a remedial measure for those who were ‘badly clothed, dirty, and without sufficient food’? His grand remedial proposals for all the evils of the country, by ‘Universal Education’, are rather an evasion of Chartism and its causes; for the Chartists say, ‘We have enough education to see the injustice of people being starved in a land of plenty; and as for emigration, we do not choose to go. Go yourselves.’ [p. 438]

Nevertheless, Horne did go, himself; and Barrett went, with her new husband Robert Browning, to Italy. When a new edition of Orion was published and acclaimed in Melbourne soon after Horne’s arrival in 1854, the effect was to draw attention, at least among educated readers and the literati, to the particular colonial significance of its allegory and moral conflict. Horne declared in a new eight-page preface, written ‘in the far bush, on the lonely lagoons of Warranga’, that the central figure is meant to present a type of the struggle of man with himself, i.e. the contest between the intellect and the senses, when powerful energies are equally balanced. Orion is man standing naked before Heaven and Destiny, resolved to work as a really free agent to the utmost pitch of his powers for the good of his race . . . He is a dreamer of noble dreams . . . he is the type of a worker and a Builder for his fellow-men.13

Horne had decreed, in a prefatory note to the first edition, that his epic fable was ‘a novel experiment upon the mind of a nation’: the emerging colonial nation should 12 Richard Hengist Horne, A New Spirit of the Age (1844), OUP, 1907, p. 436. 13 E. Partridge (ed.), introduction to Orion, by R. H. Horne, Scholartis Press, 1928, p. xxvii.


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be no exception, its roughness and practicality itself sufficient cause for the need to complement practical activity with intellectual thought. Three decades later another biographer of Carlyle, his most famous, voyaged to the colonies ‘to see them’ and purportedly ‘to hear the views of all classes of people there’. Perhaps he met a few token working men, but in his delightfully eloquent, idealised but inaccurate account, Oceana, or England and Her Colonies (1886), James Anthony Froude mixes mainly with the gentry and professional middle classes, and writes almost as if his master, the Sage of Chelsea, were exclusively their champion. By turning rural Australia into the happy pasture and granary of a new gentry and yeomanry, he seems to want to realise what he imagines to be Carlyle’s dreams. Froude had recently edited Carlyle’s posthumous Reminiscences (1881), and had published the great Life of Carlyle (1882–4) in four volumes. ‘There was no doubt’, he told the Australians, ‘that things were amiss in England.’ So he informed them ‘how Carlyle had thought about it all’: According to him England’s business . . . was to gather her colonies close to her, and spread her people where they could breathe again . . . Instead of doing this, she had been feeding herself on cant and fine phrases, and delusive promises of unexampled prosperity . . . our country was to be the world’s great workhouse, our green fields soiled with soot from steam-engines – the fair old England, the ‘gem set in a silver sea’, was to be overrun with mushroom factory towns, our flowery lanes turned into brick lanes, our church spires into smoking chimneys. We were to be a nation of slaves – slaves of all the world, slaves to mechanical drudgery and cozening trade, and deluded into a dream that all this was the glory of freedom, while we were worse off than the blacks of Louisiana. It was another England that Carlyle looked forward to – an England with the soul in her awake once more – no longer a small island, but an ocean empire, where her millions and ten millions would be spread over their broad inheritance, each leading wholesome and happy lives on their own fields, and by their own firesides, hardened into men by the sun of Australia or the frosts of Canada – free human beings in fact, and not in idle name, not miserable bondsmen any more.14

Froude managed to find sunny England wherever he looked. A squatter’s run became a ‘great English domain’, even an ‘English aristocrat’s country house’. But it was ‘not England only, but old-fashioned baronial England, renewing itself spontaneously in a land of gold and diggers’. The typical squatter’s son ‘retained the manners of the finest of fine gentlemen – tall, spare-loined, agile as a deer, and with a face that might have belonged to Sir Launcelot’. Even the corn-shocks (naturally it was harvest time) ‘were standing English fashion, red and yellow’; and the ‘dark-leaved potatoes, untroubled by blight, were in full bloom’.15 Nearby the yeomanry prospered. A less exhausted and repressed, but equally prosperous counterpart, of Boldrewood’s George Storefield garnered his crops of ‘wheat, 14 Oceana, Longmans, Green, & Co., 1886, pp. 132–3.


15 Ibid., pp. 107, 102.

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oats, barley, peas, beans, potatoes’. ‘After the sight of them’, Froude wrote, he ‘could believe Herodotus’s account of the crops grown on the plains of Babylon’: The human occupiers of these farms live each on his own freehold, or, if tenants, with no danger of disturbance. They have pretty houses, smartly kept and bright with paint; and trellis-vines creep over the verandah fronts, and the slopes or lawns are bright with roses.16

Although many Australians were made to feel proud or flattered by Froude’s Arcadian enthusiasms, others were dismayed by his misuse of the discipline of history to produce writing often more akin to the pastoral adventure-romance of Kingsley or Boldrewood. Froude’s evidence, it is true, was the product of observation and experience; but it was also carefully and misleadingly selected; and his conclusions offered false or romantically exaggerated generalisations. Not surprisingly, Froude’s bold prophecies rarely came true, their failure accelerated by the 1890s depression. He believed, for example, that the empire in its present state would and should continue ‘until symptoms have actually appeared of a wish on our part to throw them [the colonies] off, or on theirs to desert us, the very talk of such a thing ought not to be.’ He knew that the labour movement, and the Single Tax, would fail in Australia: ‘Mr [Henry] George and socialistic despotism will find no audience in these colonies. Perhaps before long they will lose their audience at home.’ He expected that the yeomanry (the ‘selector class’) could ‘not chose but be happy’, as ‘each harvest is as rich as the last’. He anticipated that British farmers – ‘gentry and all’ – will ‘one day migrate en masse to a country where they can live in their own way without fear of socialism or graduated income-tax, and leave England and English progress to blacken in its own smoke.’ Fortunately, he observed, the good sense of parliamentarians will prevent the development of political parties based on opposing principles.17

Ideal solutions: John Ruskin John Ruskin, always inescapable within colonial literary culture, has (not unaccountably) become invisible to its historians. The words Victorian, moral, utopian, impractical, and didactic, all of which need to be used carefully to elucidate his writings, are usually employed simply to dismiss, especially by modernists who overlook or undervalue Ruskin’s analytical skills, foresight and continuing influence. He was more widely known and read in the colonies than any of his eminent younger contemporaries and successors, including Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater, and probably Marx; but his appeal was diverse and perhaps obscured by the conflicts among his multifarious supporters – Tories, liberals, workers, socialists; painters, poets, and critics. His Modern Painters in three volumes (1843, 1846, 1860) was the standard and revered authority; Sesame and Lilies (1865) was perhaps the most common of all school prizes; Unto This 16 Ibid., p. 110.

17 Ibid., pp. 89, 95, 110, 111.


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Last (1860) became a stepping-stone towards socialism, leading to William Morris and Ignatius Donnelly. Every subject on which Ruskin wrote or spoke, and there were scores, was important to idealists in a new country: morality and aesthetics; philosophical idealism; the pre-Raphaelite movement; gothic architecture and mediaevalism; the role and education of women, of governesses, of working men, of prisoners; the technical principles of painting, drawing, and sculpture; criticism of literature and the fine arts; the critique of industrialism, particularly dehumanising working conditions; the nature of work and art; the conservation of architecture and art, and the ‘environment’ (Carlyle’s recent neologism); Ricardo’s utilitarian economics; Millian economics and philosophy; the concept of a fair wage; ‘single tax’; and the initiatives later realised in the welfare state. Ruskin’s prophetic eminence and literary eloquence were a continuous catalyst in colonial contests and literary debates. His endorsement of English Romanticism gave particular authority to Wordsworth (and rather less to Tennyson despite the later laureate’s ascendancy in Britain), and implicitly to much in the poetry of Harpur and Kendall. Moreover his outlines of idealist aesthetic doctrines in Modern Painters and elsewhere provided a critical roadmap of principles and theories for many colonial painters, from Conrad Martens to Charles Conder, and for the better art critics, such as James Smith and Marcus Clarke. Doctrines such as the ‘pathetic fallacy’, a positive critical tool in Ruskin’s prototypical usage, and his neo-Kantian critique of Wordsworth’s pantheism, helped to keep Wordsworth and landscape verse and painting in an academic spotlight. This was particularly so at the University of Melbourne, where Wordsworth studies developed an individual strength and unique reputation. A Melbourne law graduate, Alfred Deakin – the first native-born Victorian to publish a volume of verse, and later three times prime minister of Australia – became absorbed as a youth in Mill and Spencer, whom he never wholly abandoned. But as his religious faith crystallised he moved towards philosophical and aesthetic idealism, and to socially reformist liberal radicalism, largely through a sustained reading of Carlyle and Ruskin. His book-length manuscript study of Wordsworth was praised by Walter Murdoch, who also commended less enthusiastically his equally long Ruskinian study of Shakespeare. Always eloquent and affable, yet inwardly racked with needs and anxieties he associated with poetry and religion, Deakin spent his adult life balancing the demands of practical politics against the ideals of poetry, duty and emotional integrity. He recalled ‘with great glee’, according to Murdoch, how on his way to Bacchus Marsh as a young politician he saw a magnificent sunset, and prepared an elaborate description of it, in Ruskin’s most grandiose manner, for his next speech, thinking with satisfaction of the sensation he was sure to make by introducing such a passage into an electioneering speech; but when he stood up to face an audience of stolid farmers he felt, instinctively, that this was no place for a Ruskinian word-picture of a sunset.18

Perhaps Australia itself was becoming not such a good place for a Ruskinian idealist. 18 Walter Murdoch, Alfred Deakin: A Sketch (1923), Bookman Press, 1999, p. 67.


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Ruskin had become the Empire’s literary superego, its unchallenged word painter of the sublime, roles to which for many years Harpur had earlier and more locally aspired. Although his initial undeveloped contact with Ruskinian doctrines had probably derived from Ruskin’s progenitors (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Emerson and Carlyle, on most of whom Harpur published poems and critiques), he wrote his unpublished, apparently final credo, ‘A Discourse on Poetry’,19 using words that seem, despite an overwrought and unsophisticated manner, indignant and passionate echoes of Ruskin. It is ‘that grateful love of the beautiful, not only in its actual manifestations but also in its conceivable [sic] possibilities [which] assuredly inspires in Man an affinity with the Seraph’. Poetry is ‘the harmonised expression in language of an exquisite perception of the Beautiful’: the poet in a state of moral health articulates for the community the true artefact of Beauty and goodness, and acts as ‘word painter’ and ‘philosopher’ (but not of ‘the very common-place sort of philosophy’ practised by utilitarians). The Benthamites fail to see that ‘Art’, whether poetry, music or painting, ‘will ever be exactly measurable, in all circles, by the real standard of their moral and mental enlightenment’, and never simply by pleasure. Thus ‘the morality of Poetry . . . is exactly correspondent to its integrity, or to its simple reliance upon the inherent goodness of all natural things’: the ideal is Divine, and evil or depravity is never ‘poetic’, but diabolic. As to the causes of those utilitarian animals who are in the sage habit of decrying Poetry as an idle and unnatural art, the influence of which is to enfeeble our heads, and soften, not our hearts, but our hands and feet; – their cavils, I say, are hardly worthy of grave notice, though one were but defending a rhymed treatise on kitchen gardening, or a dwarf epic in blank about the growing of marigold wurzel or the sowing of Cobbet’s Corn.

Thomas Woolner, the sculptor and poet who was an original member of the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood, had known Ruskin since 1851, when the already famous public figure endorsed the younger enthusiasts’ much derided aesthetic manifesto in a celebrated letter to the London Times. Following the gold discoveries in Australia, the brotherhood had seriously entertained the utopian plan of setting up a camp in Victoria where they would combine digging with more literary exercises. In the event only Woolner (together with one other fringe dweller) made the expedition, which he recorded in brilliantly expressive letters to the Tennysons, the Carlyles, and fellow preRaphaelites.20 Reading his letters was the closest Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s coterie came to knowing Australia, though Gabriel later kept a small menagerie of exotic animals in his house and garden, in which a wombat and a kangaroo held pride of place. He was assured by his more sensible brother William that disturbing nightly rustlings were not made by his dead wife’s ghost, but by the nocturnal wanderings of his raccoon. 19 Charles Harpur papers, MS A87–1, Mitchell Library, Sydney. Quotations are from the MS ‘A Discourse on Poetry’. 20 See Amy Woolner, Thomas Woolner: His Life in Letters, Chapman & Hall, 1917.


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During his agonising and laborious stint at the diggings, in which his companion died in a flooded creek, Woolner read with awe and exhilaration by his campfire the early works of Ruskin. He revered them not only for their aesthetic and spiritual insights but also for their elevated description, as his own epistolary pen pictures, and his aspirations towards Beauty and the Ideal, reflect. Similar prose became standard among colonial authors: Harpur, Kendall, Clarke, James Smith, Thomas Heney often wrote optimistic detailed Ruskinian set pieces, and Harpur thundered that ‘description’ should never be lowly ranked. Their colonial typicality is often concealed by the emphases of later critics on gloom, disturbance, fear or the negative ‘uncanny’, to which Ruskin’s influence provides a common antidote. Ironically, however, Ruskin removed the purple from his style, or so he believed, long before some of his colonial disciples followed suit, on the grounds that it had become pretentious and distracting. Clarke named ‘weird melancholy’ as the ‘dominant note’ of Australian scenery (which he contextualises within a discussion of the ‘diabolic’ Poe). This has for many commentators so exemplified notions of Australian landscape before the 1890s that Clarke’s own positive Ruskinian quality and explicit religious ambivalence have been overlooked. To appreciate that this ‘dominant’ note was not the only or exclusive one he heard is necessary to an understanding of the nature of his Romanticism, and his realism. Clarke, who in Australia became (among other things) an art critic, would have discovered Ruskin’s commentaries on aesthetics and painting while studying art at Highgate School in London with his friend Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins was already a talented amateur artist, and perhaps embryonically a poet of both orthodox Christian and Worsworthian inclinations. His description of Clarke at school as ‘kaleidoscopic, thaumatropic, particoloured, harlequinesque’ predicts Clarke’s multi-faceted talents, volatility, and potential ambivalence (and Hopkins’ own ‘kinetic style’). Later in Australia, ‘training’ on sheep stations in the Grampian Mountains of Western Victoria to become a squatter, still an unpublished teenage polyglot, Clarke committed himself quixotically to writing an ambitious project on world religions, reading particularly the works of Carlyle and Ruskin (and Bossuet). For days he would ride among the mountains and plains, solitary and weirdly excited, and would write long Ruskinian pictures, remarkably like Woolner’s letters, to his friend Cyril Hopkins (Gerard’s brother). He thought of himself at this time as beginning to abandon Christian orthodoxy for a ‘kind of mysticism’. The mysticism eventually evaporated, but disappointment over his loss of faith never faded. He told Cyril, despite his own later public and controversial exposure of various fallacious arguments favouring Christianity, that he was envious of believers and ill disposed to ridicule their faith.21

21 Information in the foregoing paragraphs is taken from Clarke’s letters and Cyril Hopkins’ commentary in the latter’s MS biography of Clarke in the Mitchell Library. An annotated edition by L. Hergenhan, K. Stewart and M. Wilding is forthcoming, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2009.


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The original serialised version of His Natural Life demonstrates Clarke’s choice, despite his dwindling or lost faith, to demonstrate structurally the triumph of a tempered Ruskinian and Rousseauesque optimistism. Rufus Dawes survives the cyclone to become an exemplary Carlylean farmer, an almost Whitmanesque paragon of backwoods yeomanry; and Dora’s (Sylvia’s) daughter Dorcas survives with her diamond talisman of spiritual hope, to realise with Dawes as her stepfather his ideal of the modest home and rose garden of the Victorian gold rush settler. The allegory is irresistibly obvious; the artistic crudity of this later expunged gold rush section never derived from symbolic or didactic uncertainty, but from the heavyhandedness with which the allegory and the lesson is enforced. In both versions of the novel ‘divine’ Ruskinian landscape description is set against ‘diabolic’, Poe-like description and ‘weird melancholy’ to demonstrate how ‘a potential Eden became an evil penitentiary’. James Smith, for over 30 years from 1855 the leading art and literary critic in Victoria, was a self-proclaimed Ruskinite, though the nature of his indebtedness is usually misunderstood. Smith liked to define interrelations among Beauty, Morality, Art and Divinity in familiar Ruskinian terms, but his theatrical criticism in particular does not conform with Ruskin’s aesthetic as consistently as has been suggested. The use of detailed, often florid pen pictures to represent, for example, the tragedian G. V. Brooke’s brilliant theatrical performances and stage settings provided both contemporary newspaper readers and posterity with magnificently thorough and evocative accounts of theatrical productions; but only at times with Ruskinian critiques. Smith as Ruskinian played a sensationally antagonistic role in the contest between himself and the young painters of the ‘9 × 5 impressions’ exhibited at Buxton’s gallery in Melbourne in August 1889. Paradoxes and uncertainties surface when we seek to define that role, and Ruskin’s cultural and aesthetic influence. The publicity generated by the exhibition has assumed historically a greater importance than the quality of those minuscule paintings themselves, because at stake were matters relating to cultural transition, and to the perceived intersection of colonialism, nationalism, internationalism and modernism. A simplistic account maintains that Smith’s angry demolition job on the young exhibitors, and their public taunts in response, parallel in essence the scandalous feud between Ruskin and James Whistler in London in 1877. The latter followed Ruskin’s dismissive review of a painting by the young avant garde ‘coxcomb’ whose ‘cockney impudence’ impelled him to charge 200 guineas ‘for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face’. The problem in pressing this analogy is that the Victorian younger generation, Tom Roberts, Charles Conder, James Streeton and Frederick McCubbin, were as strongly and explicitly devoted to most of Ruskin’s principles and aesthetics as Smith, and that neither party was absolute and consistent in its discipleship. The astonishing radicalism of Turner, and of Ruskin’s appreciation of him in Modern Painters, seems never to have been fully comprehended by Smith, or perhaps even by Roberts, though awareness of it was certainly reflected in many paintings by the French impressionists,


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particularly Monet, and also in the Whistler painting which Ruskin derided. Recent art historians and biographers (of Turner and of Ruskin) see Ruskin’s outburst as aberrant and inconsistent with his own earlier critical practice. The most explicit connection between the landscape paintings of the young Streeton and Roberts and the verse of English and Australian Romantic poets is contained in the titles of paintings: for example, Streeton’s ‘Still glides the stream, and shall forever glide’ (a line from one of Wordsworth’s River Duddon sonnets), and the Shelleyan line ‘the purple noon’s transparent might’. What the quotations add to the meaning of the paintings is open to discussion, or even conjecture; but it is reasonable to conclude that, at the least, the feeling of trance-like awe and sacredness, the possibly transcendental awareness of natural beauty that is evoked by the paintings, is being articulated as a verbal confirmation, an authoritative guarantee by canonical greats. Whether Ruskin would have enjoyed Streeton’s poetic realism and accepted it as Beauty is impossible to know, especially since Ruskin never experienced Australian landscape. But the appreciation and execution of ideally real painted landscape was certainly learnt from Ruskin. Ruskin’s initially unpopular Unto This Last (1860) became eventually, especially among socialists, the most damning Victorian rebuttal of the economics of Mill and Ricardo, and implicitly of Adam Smith. Ruskin was taken up by the labour movement in Australia, as in Britain, but the Australian Labor Party experienced success earlier than its counterpart in Britain, and during Ruskin’s lifetime. Ruskin deconstructs Mill and Ricardo by examining central concepts relating to unregulated capitalism, productivity and value; he concludes with ‘there is no wealth but life’, an enormously influential slogan in the 19th century. Although Ruskinian Tories such as James Smith ignored what they regarded as a socialist aberration, radicals in Australia, including W. H. Holman, George Black and W. M. Hughes, accepted avidly the radical implications. William Morris, the pre-Raphaelite follower of Ruskin and Carlyle, who was converted to socialism, was in contact with trade union newspaper editors in Australia. The radical socialist and labour movements stocked their clubs and bookshops with these authors, and with Ignatius Donnelly, Henry George, and J. S. Mill. The full title of the Melbourne Trades Hall still carries the additional words ‘and Literary Institute’.

Moderate expectations: Charles Dickens In 1838, the first pirated edition of Pickwick Papers was published in Tasmania by Henry Dowling. Soon after, a station owner near Grafton, New South Wales, named his property Eatonswill (sic), echoing the fictional rotten borough Eatanswill in Dickens’ novel. A township emerged, now called Eatonsville, the change of name due more to civic pride than distaste for the novelist. Throughout the reign of Queen Victoria, Dickens was as popular and important in Australia as in Britain, and for similar reasons.


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Coral Lansbury argued in Arcady in Australia (1970) that his Arcadian projections of Australia in David Copperfield and Great Expectations derived from a practical urge to promote working-class emigration, and from a nostalgic wish to translate the old ‘Britain’ before crowded industrialism to the sunny antipodean south. A practical response to Lansbury might stress the obvious: that Australia scarcely appears, except as an informative absence and a fortunate destination, in these novels; if Dickens set out to be overtly propagandist, he was not very successful. A second observation applies to many other commentators besides Lansbury: that to depict a fictional Arcady in Australia is not necessarily to persuade readers, particularly potential emigrants, that the actual colony is Arcadian. Lansbury fails to explore sufficiently how literary tropes and conventions that idealise, distort or abandon historical reality, especially in melodrama or pastoral romance, work to persuade potential immigrants. Arguably, the prospects and destinies of Peggoty and of Micawber are presented as happy gestures rather than realistic endings; and the shock legacy of that ill-favoured fairy godfather Magwitch is not likely to have been accepted as everyday good fortune in either a convict’s or a colonist’s life. Other references made by Dickens to Australia, in Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby and Our Mutual Friend, are to the place as a justly punitive convict destination. Nevertheless, Dickens was more closely familiar with the colonies than his books indicate, and came to see them, in more carefully considered ways than Lansbury suggests, as a worthwhile destination for certain emigrants. Late in his life two of his sons migrated: Alfred D’Orsay Tennyson in 1865, to Hamilton in rural Victoria, and Edward Bulwer Lytton in 1869, to Wilcannia in far western New South Wales. Conjecture that Miss Havisham in Great Expectations is modelled on an historically authenticated parallel, the jilted Eliza Donnithorne of Sydney, is regarded sceptically by scholars, who nonetheless point out that contacts in Australia could have told Dickens her story. Lansbury is more convincing in pointing to Dickens’ connection with the colonies as editor of Household Words in the early 1850s, though her consideration even of this link is misleading and incomplete. It is true, as she points out, that he wrote an essay on New South Wales, and that he published in Household Words several influential essays by Samuel Sidney, who encouraged working-class migration and rejected Wakefield’s (and Mill’s) advocacy of the necessity of a squattocracy to confirm economic or social caste. Sidney, like Carlyle before him, envisaged a colony populated by small propertyowning farmers, translated from the British working classes (of all ‘sorts’: migration would smooth the rougher ones) into plucky and virtuous sterling yeomanry. Dickens also consulted personally with Caroline Chisholm and others on the subject. Lansbury fails to mention that Household Words carried more diverse and sometimes contrary material than Sidney’s encomiums. One of its four staff editors before his migration was R. H. Horne, who had worked with Dickens in the preparation of reports of exploitation, chicanery and squalor relating to the oppressed in Britain, and who after his arrival in Victoria wrote more documentary material about Australia than


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any other contributor. Horne and Dickens shared a delight in amateur theatricals, wine, and showing off, and had presented (badly) an enthusiastically rehearsed original comedy before Queen Victoria. Horne wrote colourfully and factually for Dickens about the goldfields and other Australian subjects. In 1859 he published his own well-received account, Australian Facts and Prospects, which, with an attached colonial autobiography, shows the influence on his work of his writing for Household Words. It is an objectively discriminating yet narcissistic study, emphasising the practical skills required by successful immigrants and ridiculing recent claims of opportunities for ‘literary men’ made by Frank Fowler in Southern Lights and Shadows (1859). But it scarcely endorses the ideal of yeomanry for upwardly mobile working men. After the first gold rushes (the beginnings of an Australian industrial revolution) the deeper significance of Dickens for the colonies could scarcely be perceived as Arcadian. So far from promising a working man’s paradise, he revealed the hellish excesses of urban industrialism at home in Britain, and by implication locally, especially within the colonial cities. Literary politicians and social critics like Parkes, Gavan Duffy, and Deakin could not avoid the perception that local prosperity was accompanied by poverty, sweated labour, class disparity and a raft of social abuses. Deakin, a devotee of Dickens, Carlyle and Ruskin, campaigned and legislated compassionately – against sweated labour, for example, and in favour of destitute widows and children. He was successful in gaining a pension for Marcus Clarke’s widow, and in establishing in 1908 the Commonwealth Literary Fund for needy authors or their families. Novelist-journalists such as Clarke and J. E. Neild employed Dickensian styles and devices – extravagant and humorous wordiness, irony, caricature; or blatant pathos – to reveal a ‘Lower Bohemia’, or a Little Lonsdale Street, that read indeed ‘like something out of Dickens’. There is in these writers (partly learnt or reinforced by reading Dickens) a familiar entrancement with sordid vitality, a love–hate celebration of an urban genius loci. In a long obituary Clarke judged that in Dickens we see ‘our nineteenth-century existence, with its gambling, starving, pauper-burying, speculating, poisoning and swindling; [its] almshouses, Yorkshire schools, chancery suits, theatres, prisons, . . . banks, frauds on insurance companies’.22 These are, of course, the themes of his journalistic sketches of Melbourne. Dickens, he argues, uncovered ‘the inner side of middle class life’, the ‘story of the poor clerk, the struggling tradesman’.

‘Earth’s Greatest Man’: Shakespeare The triumph of ‘Shakespeare’ on the colonial stage in the period following the first gold rushes would not have been possible without the growth of popular and literary culture and commercial enterprise made possible by immigration, population increase 22 Argus (Melbourne), 8 July 1870, p. 7. Reprinted in Michael Wilding (ed.), Marcus Clarke (Australian Authors series), UQP, 1976, pp. 629–37.


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and urbanisation. English stars such as G. V. Brooke, Ellen and Charles Kean, Barry Sullivan and Walter Montgomery transformed colonial experience both by reinforcing its cosmopolitanism and Englishness, and by fostering local talent, literary criticism and a nuanced Australian response. Shakespeare was good, popular theatrical entertainment, performed by actors whose appeal rested also on their skills in acting farce, melodrama, pantomime and popular comedy; but it was, as well, as emblematised by the Shakespearean bust in the study or vestibule, something far more pervasive and multifaceted within colonial society Members of the aspirational, autodidactic working class and middle class, like Furphy and his character Tom Collins, enjoyed or approved of the Bard. By the 20th century, decades of Australian proletarian suspicion or incomprehension of high culture and intellectual pursuits also permitted, for example, C. J. Dennis’s Sentimental Bloke to shout from his seat for the players in Romeo and Juliet to ‘put in the boot’, and Lawson in ‘Mateship in Shakespeare’s Rome’ to use Shakespeare as a trope to champion Australian nationalism against aristocratic and effete Englishness. For gentlemen critics like James Smith, Shakespeare was at once a Carlylean moral hero and an inspired creator of Beauty. E. E. Morris, a professor of literature at Melbourne University, publicly endorsed Carlyle’s proclamation (in On Heroes and Hero Worship) that global recognition of Shakespeare by English-speaking peoples would maintain ‘virtually one nation’ which would ‘live at peace, in brother-like intercourse, helping one another’: Here [Carlyle had said] is an English King, whom no time or chance, Parliament or combination of parliaments, can dethrone! This King Shakepeare, does not he shine in crowned sovereignty over us all, as the noblest, gentlest, yet strongest of rallying signs; indestructible, really more valuable in that point of view than any other means or appliance whatsoever? We can fancy him as radiant aloft over all the nations of Englishmen, a thousand years hence, from Parramatta, from New York, wheresoever, under what post or parish constable soever, Englishmen and women are, as they will say to one another, ‘Yes, this Shakespeare is ours, we produced him, we speak and think by him, we are of one blood and kin with him’.

Morris claimed that his young sons would learn more history from Henry V and the patriotic plays than from ‘the history books’, and suggested that St George should be replaced as patron saint of England by William Shakespeare. Such were the excesses that demonstrate how Shakespeare could be used as an instrument of Empire, patriarchy, capitalism, racism and colonialism. R. H. Horne believed, representatively, that respect for Shakespeare reflected growing colonial maturity and proper development towards nationhood. When funds could not be found to complete Charles Summers’ celebrated public statue, he wrote (in a prologue to a Shakespearean medley preformed at the Melbourne’s Theatre Royal on the 300th anniversary celebrations):


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Be it not said how we in other climes To our disgrace, and shame, in future times, We had no taste for verse except burlesquing rhymes. Be it not recorded in our books of trade We left a Summers standing in the shade Of his own noble work, – oh! Let not this be said. Be it not found our sense of art was greed Measured by its value, e’en like market seed: If elder cities fail, then let us take the lead, Set up an image of earth’s greatest man, Who has done more than all besides to scan Nature’s wide-open book and show her working plan.23

Fitting English caps: Gilbert and Sullivan In E. W. Hornung’s Stingaree (1903), the eponymous hero is a dandyish graduate of Oxford who rides a white thoroughbred, and has in his decline taken to bushranging in the Australian outback. He bails up the local mail coach with two long-barrelled revolvers, and demands – not gold, but the latest issue of Melbourne Punch, where he can study reviews of recent performances of Gilbert and Sullivan. Rural Australia has become less Shakespearean since Tom Collins recited Shakespeare to his lonely bullock team. From the late 1870s Gilbert and Sullivan had proved as spectacularly successful in colonial cities as in London and New York, and along with pianos, sheet music and rabbits had spread through the bush. Many of the earliest performances had been pirated by local troupes. While touring London with his own Struck Oil in 1879, J. C. Williamson gleefully bought from D’Oyly Carte the rights to perform Gilbert and Sullivan in Australia until 1960. With his partner Musgrave he remained faithful to the unwritten London Savoy charter of English performance conventions, and exploited the home-brand cachet. Helen Lenore (Mrs D’Oyly Carte) came to the colonies to supervise. This insistence on the authorised and popular house style ensured that localised adaptations, with their peculiar relevance and wit, were not available in the major theatres. Nevertheless the Savoy cap often happened to fit colonial wearers, permitting a response to Gilbert’s libretti that might be at once global and local (‘glocal’ in the cant of recent cosmopolitan theory.) Thus HMS Pinafore might celebrate colonial class mobility; Patience might ridicule not merely the affectations of Wilde and the aesthetes, but also the buffoonery of the privileged ‘English’ in a practical ‘Australian’ community; The Mikado might appeal (fallaciously as it happened) to the tastes and refinements of local ‘experts’ in japonoiserie; and in 23 Examiner (Melbourne), 30 April 1864. For further discussion of Shakespeare in colonial Australia see H. Love (ed.), The Australian Stage: A Documentary History, UNSWP, 1984, pp. 52–118; Ken Stewart, ‘Much Ado About Everything’, Australian Literary Studies, 19.3, pp. 269–79; Richard Madeleine and John Golder (eds), O Brave New World, Currency Press, 2001.


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Princess Ida a specifically Australian type of ‘outdoor’ feminism could be celebrated in the feisty assertiveness of Ida and her female intellectual friends. Ada Cambridge, Catherine Martin, Miles Franklin, Tasma and others wrote novels with vigorously healthy ‘outdoors’ intellectual heroines – and colonial plays and verse depicted robust types of ‘the Ausralian girl’ metonymically representing the coming nation. After the Melbourne production of Princess Ida in 1888, female students at the university formed their own Princess Ida Club from which, like Ida’s Castle Adamant, male students were barred. For a detailed demonstration of how regional, national and international conditions, and global capitalist operations, could combine to permit particular colonial audience responses, perhaps the most suitable text is HMS Pinafore. In some respects Gilbert’s antiTory radicalism in this opera is itself inconsistent with the familiar version of Englishness against which ‘typical’ Australian nationalism defined itself. It celebrates the rise of the ‘lowborn’, and the corresponding fall of the apparent aristocrat: for ‘one was a patrician, and one of low condition’. Technically, aristocracy triumphs, for Ralph’s ‘true’ blood is blue blood; but really, in its emotional impact, an Australian dream of navy-blue rags to riches in epaulettes is translated by the audience through a particular local iconography. Audiences knew, in 1879, that the Tichborne claimant, a butcher from Wagga Wagga, was in fact a sailor: he was of the same profession, if not rank, as Cook, Phillip, Bligh and other local icons. Another sailor figure after 1885 was the Little Boy from Manly, Livingston Hopkins’ metonymic critique and cartoon celebration of Young Australia in a sailor suit. The carnivalesque celebration of the local claimant becomes in the theatre a comic colonial holiday. Interestingly, a sequel to HMS Pinafore, The Wreck of the Pinafore, in which class hierarchies are not overturned as Buttercup is found to have lied about mixing up the babies, failed in both London and New Zealand, primarily no doubt because it lacked the e´lan of Gilbert and Sullivan, but also one suspects because it overturns their satire of class. HMS Pinafore also publicly advertises the vices and weaknesses of British military aristocracy in which local colonial resentment is exacerbated by the imperial hierarchical structure of the military. The ruler of the Queen’s Nay-vee in the colonial period was widely distrusted in Australia both as a type, on class and national grounds, and frequently in practical reality for incompetence, arrogance and ignorance. A. B. Paterson’s first published poem, concerning Australian involvement in the Sudan campaign in which General Gordon was killed, ridicules Gordon’s fellow generals. Paterson resumed his attack during the Boer War on the impractical and ‘eye-glassed impotents from Piccadilly’. Gilbert had no subversive intention, so far as the colonies were concerned; but his satire could easily be poetically translated and appropriated.24 24 For an expanded discussion see Ken Stewart, ‘Antipodean Topsy-Turvy: Gilbert and Sullivan in the Australian Colonies’, Southerly, 67.1–2 (2007), pp. 69–85.


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Yellow livery: Oscar Wilde The example of Oscar Wilde underlines the peril of leaving unexamined the crosscurrents of national stereotyping. Wilde was not really an English Tory: he was a liberal socialist, and Irish. But the image of aristocratic dandyism he affected was the reverse of typically Australian. In witty conversation and in his plays and other writings, he employed with pitiless brio the convention of Australia as a joke place, a vast and distant outpost overrun by convicts, sheep and wealthy philistines who were to be spurned, unless one was in debt. The British put-down of the ‘colonial’ (a very different term to ‘colonist’) was by 1890 a literary and social tradition. It ran parallel to various incompatible Arcadian enthusiasms for adventure, freedom and open air; and it received colonial payback in the (real and literary) treatment of overbearing and effete new chums, snobs and overlords in the colonies. But Wilde’s treatment of Australia was a joke for joke’s sake, nonchalantly cruel but not commitedly malevolent. Accordingly, in The Importance of Being Earnest when Cecily informs Algernon that Jack has ‘gone up to buy [his] outfit’ for emigrating, the following dialogue takes place: algernon: I certainly wouldn’t let Jack buy my outfit. He has no taste in neckties at all. cecily: I don’t think you will require neckties: Uncle Jack is sending you to Australia. algernon: Australia! I’d sooner die. cecily: Well, he said at dinner on Wednesday night, that you would have to choose between this world, the next world, and Australia. algernon: Oh, well! The accounts I have received of Australia and the next world are not particularly encouraging.

When (in real life) Lillie Langtry asked Wilde why he thought of going to Australia he replied, ‘Well, do you know, when I look at the map and see what an ugly-looking country Australia is, I feel as if I want to go there to see if it cannot be changed into a more beautiful form.’25 A similarly affected Wildean figure had already visited Australian theatre in the comic figure of Bunthorne in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, which was first performed in Sydney in 1881, seven months after its London premiere. According to contemporary actors’ accounts and several critical reviews, actors and audiences were familiar with the cults and crazes of aestheticism. In the previous decade, Kendall (who had published a study of Wilde’s mother, the poet Esperanza, in his series on Irish poets), and others had addressed themselves in the weekly press to issues relating to Swinburne, Rossetti, and particularly to Robert Buchanan’s The Fleshly School of Poetry (1871). The audience would have known, for example, the double significance of Gilbert’s allusion to Bunthorne as a ‘fleshly poet’, especially since Oscar himself was not exactly slender. In 1889 Wilde, in the colonially published Centennial Magazine,26 conjoined his aesthete’s pose 25 Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde, Hamish Hamilton, 1988, p. 196. 26 See ibid., pp. 196, 534.


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and dress sense with his affected anti-Australian superiority by publishing his ‘Symphony in Yellow’ (a titular reference, he explained, to the ‘horrible yellow livery’ worn by the convicts or transported ‘canaries’): And far in the Antipodes When swelling suns have sunk to rest A convict to his yellow breast Shall hug my yellow melodies.

Wilde’s dandified condescension is the literary enshrinement of an attitude towards ‘colonials’ that had commenced probably a century earlier. Its comic excess is in effect a self-reflexive confession of its own absurdity, since transportation had ceased many decades earlier; but the attitude continued, more in life than in literature, into the 20th century, and was adopted as well at times by expatriated, velvet-clad bohemian aesthetes, including perhaps Alistair Kershaw, Robert Helpmann, Barry Humphries, Richard Neville and Robert Hughes.

Conclusion In Australian literary histories the 1890s and Federation sometimes throw an obscuring shadow over the culture of previous decades. Federation as apotheosis transforms earlier literature into a mere process of getting there; and perhaps of being hampered on the way – by Britishness. Emphasis on the 1890s may also lead either to neglect of the various literary nationalisms of previous decades, or to the privileging of 1890s discourses. Discussion of colonialism that conflates political with cultural realities may obscure the modern and anticipatory elements of pre-1890s Australian culture, and lead to an underestimation of the nature and extent of cosmopolitan, global and local forces after the gold rushes. The tyranny of distance had never threatened the transmission of British ideas, institutions and conventions; it was in fact becoming merely an occasional inconvenience or a cause of psychological anxiety, of cultural inferiority caused by a feeling of remoteness. After the gold rushes no Australian newspaper reader, particularly among those who were suspicious of literary and intellectual pursuits, could avoid daily and weekly reminders of the public perceptions of the role of literature – as a discourse, a means of self-improvement, an exemplary and coded embodiment of certain written conventions and proprieties, and an arena for intellectual disputation. Literature encompassed philosophy, criticism, political economy and social commentary as well as the normal ‘higher’ genres and modes; its leading practitioners included Carlyle, Ruskin and various historians, as well as Dickens, Tennyson and Shakespeare, who were household words. In the 1880s the town planners of Byron Bay named every street after a canonical author, a monument to the now-defunct community sense of the power and value of the literary.


Britain’s Australia

The ascendancy of literature confirmed the British and European connections explored in this chapter, and their later gradual erosion indicated transitions within the British–Australian relationship. The generation of immigrants who had since the 1850s spread the gospel of literature was by the 1880s gradually surrendering certain priorities, not merely because they included more native-born Australians, but also because literature in Britain was losing its mid-Victorian hold. In Australia Art for Art’s sake, decadence, and some other British and European movements never caught on; in fact they were derided both by the older generation of local writers and critics and by young authors such as O’Dowd, Deakin, and Walter Murdoch and also the Bulletin school. The Bulletin (established in 1880) was itself a product of generational change. J. F. Archibald and A. G. Stephens railed against the cant both of the British old world and of the old Australian litterateurs, and in practice championed both internationalist and new local nationalist ideas and movements. As contemporary British writers failed in the 1880s to exert the earlier canonical power, Australian writers and literary culture began gradually to exercise a new and broader cultural influence. The transition was not so much a rejection of traditional international and British literary traditions as an attempt to accommodate new local movements as well. James Smith, H. G. Turner and critics from the gold rush generation sometimes labelled the Bulletin school a threat to the traditions and values of literature itself; but young practitioners – such as Henry Lawson, a Dickens-lover, and A. B. Paterson, raised in the bush on Carlyle, Wordsworth and imperial adventure stories – expressed no rejection of English literature despite their own refashioning of its resources. Lawson, however, strongly criticised Romanticism, including Paterson’s. This chapter has attempted to demonstrate several Australian literary transformations relating particularly to democracy and freedom; nature and aesthetic idealism; conceptualisation of City and Country; and literary Arcadias. Australian literary negotiation with British texts, ideas and conventions, it argues, should not of itself be perceived as cultural enslavement, and is creatively inevitable in the formation of a national literature. The discussion of particular authors allows us to appreciate their individuality, as well as their discrete or overlapping Britishness and Australianness, and to understand that colonial writing is not more derivative than any other (especially British). Among several common themes in this chapter, perhaps the most insistent, and the most commonly neglected in histories of 19th-century Australian literature, is the repeated contest between utilitarian materialism and aesthetic, spiritual and moral idealism. That contest is of course derived and evolved from earlier battles between Mill and Ruskin or Carlyle, Hume and Kant, neoclassicism and Romanticism. Yet these earlier contests recast and replay, as J. S. Mill insisted, an ancient conflict between Aristotle and Plato.



The beginnings of literature in colonial Australia elizabeth webby

Books arrived in Australia in 1788 with Governor Phillip and the first shiploads of convicts, officials and marines, as did paper, pens and ink. The last items were needed for keeping the records of the penal colony as well as maintaining communication with the mother country. In a sign of the times, also in the cargo were some boxes of type and a wooden screw press, though initially no-one could use it. Once George Hughes, a convict, began to operate the press, he was kept busy printing government notices, though the earliest surviving item is in fact a playbill, advertising a 30 July 1796 performance of Nicholas Rowe’s The Tragedy of Jane Shore (1714) at the Sydney Theatre.1 The first play had been performed in Australia a few years earlier, to celebrate the king’s birthday on 4 June 1789, which shows that someone had brought a copy of George Farquhar’s 1703 comedy The Recruiting Officer to Sydney.2 From the beginning of Australian settlement, then, books and other items of print culture were being used not only for utilitarian purposes but also for relaxation and amusement. A surprisingly high number of early settlers could read, and by 1890 adult literacy was almost universal. This chapter will trace the importation of books, the growth of libraries and literary societies, the beginnings of local publishing and the influence of educational institutions, including mechanics’ institutes and universities. Although most books came from Britain and were by British authors, a growing number were by Americans; classical and European authors were also widely read, but few Australian ones, even though books, poems and plays were also being written in Australia from the beginning of settlement.

1 This playbill was found in a book in the National Library of Canada and presented to the National Library of Australia on 11 September 2007; it can be viewed on the NLA website. 2 For detailed accounts of theatre in early Sydney see Robert Jordan, The Convict Theatres of Early Australia, 1788–1840, Currency Press, 2002, and Nathan Garvey, ‘Reviewing Australia’s first performance: The Recruiting Officer in Sydney 1789’, Australasian Drama Studies, 40 (2002), pp. 26–57. Fictionalised accounts of the first Sydney performance can be found in Thomas Keneally, The Playmaker (1987) and Timberlake Wertenbaker, Our Country’s Good (1988).


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Literacy and the availability of books How many of those who arrived in New South Wales on the First Fleet were able to read and write? Clearly the gentlemen – ships’ officers, government officials, doctors and clergymen – could, as could some of the convicts. Literacy rates in Britain at the time suggest that at least half of those in military service could read to some degree. In 1792, Major Grose, commander of the New South Wales Corps, instructed one of the men under his command to open a school; it appears that his fellow soldiers as well as their children were among the pupils. The first generation to be born and educated in Australia achieved a higher rate of literacy than those born elsewhere, perhaps because the ready availability of convict labour allowed children to stay longer at school. A survey of marriage registers kept in and around Sydney between 1804 and 1814 shows that 55 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women born outside the colony could sign their names, as against 63 per cent of men and 44 per cent of women born in the colony. By 1821–4 the number of persons signing the register had, for those born in the colony, risen to 86 per cent for men and 75 per cent for women. Since it was the practice to teach reading before writing, it is assumed that a number of those who did not sign the registers would still have been able to read.3 Most of the books brought by the first settlers were of a utilitarian nature, though the prospect of a long voyage and difficulty of obtaining books once in Australia clearly encouraged some to bring recreational reading matter as well. Initial attempts to encourage reading among the convicts focused on collections of tracts, the Bible and other religious texts. The 4000 volumes sent with the First Fleet courtesy of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge included prayer books, psalters, testaments, Bibles and hundreds of tracts with titles such as ‘Plain Exhortations to Prisoners’, ‘Cautions to Swearers’, ‘Dissuasions from Stealing’, ‘Exercises against Lying’ and ‘Exhortations to Chastity’. These were issued to prisoners and others at the chaplain’s discretion. For many years, books remained in short supply. The educated convict John Grant, for example, wrote to his mother and sister from Parramatta in January 1805 that ‘Books are very valuable here, and any friend who would scrape together a few in a Box for me, I would make a collection of Insects for him in return.’4 The need for books for recreation as well as business can be seen in a letter sent by the 19-year-old George Allen to his brother in England in 1820. Allen, who was training to be a solicitor, asked his brother to send him some law books ‘as they will be very useful and indeed essential to me in my profession’. He went on to ask for other books as well: 3 Information on education and literacy in the early years of settlement is taken from John F. Cleverley, The First Generation: School and Society in Early Australia, SUP, 1971. 4 John Grant’s letter is transcribed in Yvonne Cramer, This Beauteous, Wicked Place: Letters and Journals of John Grant, Gentleman Convict, NLA, 2000, p. 84.


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If you are comfortably situated in life and can spare the money (not else) I should have no objection to you sending the Books a list of which I have enclosed and marked No. 2. If you can’t spare the Money for all and can for some, do the best you can for me as this place is not like London for amusements, here we have neither society nor places of amusement, there is not [a] library here to spend a few hours in; my only employment after the business of the day is to retire to my own room (for I am the only one of the family now left in Sydney) and read my books of which I am sorry to say I have but a slender stock. I am particularly fond of reading, to me it is the greatest of amusements and therefore a good Library would be a treasure – and such a one as could not be purchased in this colony at any price.5

Unfortunately, the two lists of books Allen sent to his brother are lost. We do, however, have some idea of the books owned, and presumably read, by educated men of his class from lists of the contents of private libraries, usually drawn up when they were being advertised for sale. According to a list made in 1800, for example, the library of surgeon and explorer George Bass consisted of around 100 volumes. There were, as one would expect, works on medicine and science, as well as on law, history, travels, and theology. At a time when the classical authors formed so significant a part of a gentleman’s education there were also volumes of Horace, Virgil and Homer. In addition to magazines and dictionaries, there were many of the standard English works found in nearly all gentlemen’s libraries of this period, such as Bacon’s Essays, Dryden’s Works and Gay’s Poems. But the only works of fiction were translations of Don Quixote and Gil Blas.6 A few decades later, another famous Australian explorer displayed a stronger taste for fiction, indicating the shift towards novel-reading which began in this period, though novels were still looked down on by many. When John Oxley’s library was sold by auction in Sydney in August 1828, about half of the 350 or so lots listed in the catalogue were works of fiction. They included such recent publications as Walter Scott’s Tales of the Crusaders (1825), Fenimore Cooper’s The Prairie (1827), Anne Radcliffe’s Gaston de Blondeville (1826) and Mary Shelley’s Last Man (1826). Oxley was a regular purchaser of the latest English books, a surviving statement of account with the Sydney merchants Berry and Wollstonecraft showing that he spent nearly £41 on books and periodicals in November 1821 and a further £7 13s in November 1822.7 Another indication of the growing taste for fiction comes from advertisements in early Sydney and Hobart newspapers for missing books. Before 1820 these were far more numerous than advertisements of books for sale, showing that books were indeed scarce in this period, as John Grant and George Allen claimed. On 17 July 1803, the wealthy emancipist Simeon Lord advertised in the Sydney Gazette for the return of his 5 George Allen’s letter is held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, ML MSS 477. 6 See John Earnshaw, ‘An Excursion into Vague Realms of Australiana. What Happened to Surgeon Bass’s Library?’, Biblionews, 3 (1969), pp. 14–17. 7 A copy of the auction catalogue for Oxley’s books, sold in Sydney on 27–29 August 1828, together with copies of his accounts are in the Norton Smith and Company Collection, Mitchell Library, ML MSS 5328.


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copy of Clara Reeve’s gothic novel The Old English Baron (1777). A week later, the Gazette advised that ‘The Old English Baron, advertised in our last, returned to his quarters on Monday; and we understand his presence was admitted as an apology for his absconding without leave of absence.’ Andrew Thompson, a settler at the Hawkesbury River, made a similarly gentlemanly plea on 16 December 1804. He was missing many books, including two volumes of The Spectator, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Sterne’s Works, three volumes of Burns and two of the Newgate Calendar. The latter work was, understandably, popular in early Australia. Another prominent emancipist, Isaac Nichols, had advertised on 31 July 1808 for the missing first volume of his set ‘in good binding, gilt, and lettered; with a coat of arms on the inside of the cover, the motto, Dominie dirige nos.’ By 28 April 1810, however, no less than three volumes of Nichols’ Newgate Calendar were missing and he was losing patience: ‘If not restored the person in whose possession either may be hereafter found will be prosecuted.’ This very telling testimony to the popularity of Scott’s fiction appeared in the Hobart Town Gazette on 10 May 1823: Lost, a few days ago, the Novel of ‘Ivanhoe’, in 3 vols. boards; also, in January last, a pocket Bible in 1 vol. bound in blue Morocco. – A Reward of 3 Dollars is hereby offered for Ivanhoe, and 2 Dollars for the Bible, upon delivering of the same to the Printer.

A few weeks later, on 7 June, the owner of a missing volume of Byron’s Works offered an even more generous reward of one guinea for its return. As these last advertisements suggest, among literary authors, Scott, Byron and Shakespeare were by far the most popular and, at least in terms of number of volumes advertised for sale, they remained so until the 1850s. Byron was often seen as too radical and risqu´e to be safely read by young women, and the works of 18th-century novelists like Richardson, Fielding, Smollett and Sterne were increasingly condemned as crude and immodest as the century wore on; Scott was considered the least reprehensible of novelists. When the Sydney gentlemen, including George Allen, who assembled together in 1826 to form the Australian Subscription Library sent their first book order to London, the only novels requested were Scott’s.8

The growth of libraries Clergymen and missionaries were active in early attempts to form lending libraries, since books of the right sort were seen as important for moral control and improvement and so especially necessary in a penal colony. The Rev. Samuel Marsden had argued in 8 David J. Jones, A Source of Inspiration and Delight: The Buildings of the State Library of New South Wales Since 1826, Library Council of New South Wales, 1988, p. 12.


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1808 in his ‘Proposals for Instituting a Lending Library for the General Benefit of the Inhabitants of New South Wales’ that what the colonists needed was ‘a Public Library to consist of books carefully selected and confined to particular subjects it is obvious from the nature of the Colony should be Divinity and Morals, History, Voyages and Travels, Agriculture in all its branches, Mineralogy and Practical Mechanics’. Clearly, what Marsden had in mind was a library of mainly utilitarian works, to help colonists in their pioneering while also assisting them to overcome the perceived disadvantages of a convict society. Of the 226 volumes he eventually assembled, through appeals in the Evangelical Magazine and his own purchases, about half were works classed as Divinity, with Agriculture, 27 volumes, and History, 18, being the next largest categories.9 This was anything but a public library, however, since Marsden chose not only the books but also their readers. On 5 March 1814, Free Settler wrote to the Sydney Gazette asking about the library he had heard of in England ‘consisting not only of a variety of useful School Books, but also of a large collection of Bibles, Prayer Books, Religious Tracts, Histories, Geographies, Travels, Voyages, Biographies, etc.’. After various other letters in response, Marsden himself wrote to the paper on 26 March, saying that the collection was not a public library, but books were lent to ‘Settlers, Soldiers, and Prisoners, at my discretion’. When questioned further on this matter by Commissioner Bigge in 1821, he claimed that insufficient funds had been raised to establish the library in Sydney on the scale originally planned so he had built a room for the books at his home in Parramatta, where ‘gentlemen and others’ could read and borrow them.10 Methodist missionaries, given their doctrinal emphasis on reading and writing as aids to individual salvation, were even more active in attempts to supply useful and uplifting reading material to early colonists. They were responsible for publishing the first Australian magazine in 1821 and also for establishing the first truly public, even if not totally free, library in Hobart in 1826. The books in the Wesleyan Library understandably emphasised Morality and Religion, with ‘Publications that are either frivolous in their composition, or pernicious in their tendency . . . entirely excluded’. Subscriptions were 10 shillings per annum in cash or books, though books ‘on the plainest and most important subjects of doctrinal and practical Religion’ were supplied without charge.11 Despite the support given to the Wesleyan Library by Governor Arthur, himself a Methodist, it clearly did not fulfil all the reading needs of those in Hobart who were not able to join the very selective Hobart Town Book Society, which like Sydney’s Australian Subscription Library could blackball people seen as undesirable members. In 1827 the Hobart Town Mechanics’ Institute was established along with a library; the Tasmanian reported on 22 March that ‘donation of Books was urged upon the Gentlemen present, many of whom promised to contribute’. As with earlier libraries 9 Elizabeth Webby, ‘Literature and the Reading Public in Australia: 1800–1850’, PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 1972, vol. I, pp. 57–8. 10 Ibid., pp. 59–60. 11 Ibid., pp. 47–9.


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established largely through donation, the initial collection was far from ideal though additional books were soon ordered from England. By the time the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts was established in 1833, the one in Hobart had more or less ceased to function, though it was revived later in the 1830s. On 6 March 1834, the Sydney Herald was able to report that the School of Arts had opened its library and reading room: ‘upwards of five hundred volumes already adorn its shelves, consisting of works on science, history and general literature, chiefly contributed by the liberal donations and loans of members and friends’. By then, however, mechanics, like most others in the community, were showing a decided preference for fiction over other types of reading. Not that there were all that many mechanics among the School of Arts’ membership: the Monitor for 7 February 1835 pointed out that, as in Great Britain, ‘not more than a score of Members . . . fall under the denomination of Mechanics’. Although the committee could do little about this, it was at pains in its annual report for 1836 to defend the number of literary works, especially recent novels, in its library: a taste for reading has to be formed before works of a more philosophical character will be relished or appreciated . . . if any book is likely to accomplish this more speedily than another, it is the works of Scott – containing, as they do, a vast fund of historical information, mixed up, in an agreeable shape, with the manners and customs of different periods.12

Given the much more organised nature of the settlement of South Australia, it is not surprising to learn that a South Australian Literary and Scientific Association had been formed in 1834, before the colonists had even left England. Even so, it did not prosper in the early years and in 1839 joined forces with the Adelaide Mechanics’ Institute, claiming then to have a library of some 400 volumes.13 Again there were difficulties and the South Australian Institute was re-established in 1856. By 1861, as Tim Dolin has shown, it had a collection of around 5000 titles, of which about one-third were novels. These were, however, by far the most frequently borrowed works. Although Dickens was the most borrowed author, with nearly a thousand loans in 1861–2, it is fascinating to see that Scott’s Waverley (1814) remained the single most borrowed title. Dolin also notes that Dickens’ Great Expectations, published in London in July 1861, was on the institute’s shelves and being borrowed by October. This lag of three or so months between a book’s English publication and its arrival in Australia did not improve much over the next 100 years.14 Mechanics’ institutes were established in Melbourne in 1839, in Geelong in 1846, in Brisbane in 1849 and in Perth in 1851. In the second half of the century they gradually 12 Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts, Report for the Year 1836 (1837), p. 12. 13 Webby, ‘Literature and the Reading Public’, vol. I, pp. 260–1. 14 Tim Dolin, ‘First Steps towards a History of the Mid-Victorian Novel in Colonial Australia’, Australian Literary Studies, 22.3 (2006), pp. 273–93.


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spread out from the capitals to the large and then the small country towns. Although never as successful in attracting working-class members as had originally been hoped, they did cater to the reading needs of many thousands throughout the country.15 In Victoria alone, over 500 were in existence by 1890, as outlined in Pam Baragwanath’s If the Walls Could Speak: A Social History of the Mechanics’ Institutes of Victoria (2000). The one at Shepparton was being heavily used by writer Joseph Furphy as he built up his magnum opus, the novel Such is Life (1903).

Literary lectures In keeping with their initial stress on useful knowledge for the working man, one of the aims of Australian mechanics’ institutes was to hold lectures and classes on scientific and technical topics. In the early days of colonisation, however, there was a shortage of qualified volunteer lecturers in these areas, though plenty of educated gentlemen were prepared to give papers on topics of particular interest to them, such as English poetry. Making a virtue of necessity, the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts proclaimed: A knowledge of science, however profound, if unembellished by those graces which literature supplies, is stripped of half its advantages: a relish for the beauties of which our historians and poets afford so inexhaustible a supply, can hardly afford less enjoyment to the majority of persons, than that communicated by the perception of abstract truths affecting the material world. To point out those models among our national authors, upon which the popular taste ought to be formed; to infuse a general sentiment of esteem for those pure and classical monuments of English literature, upon which so much of English glory depends, is an object scarcely beyond the attainment of, and not incompatible with the general designs of this Institution.16

The lectures being defended were two on English literature delivered in 1837 by William Cape, headmaster of the Sydney College. In 1838, William a` Beckett, later Chief Justice of Victoria, spoke on ‘The Poets and Poetry of Great Britain’ to a good-sized crowd, including some ladies. As a` Beckett’s lectures were printed in 1839, it is easy to see why he was a popular speaker: he included plenty of amusing asides, a great deal of quotation from the works being discussed and many anecdotes about the poets themselves. He traced the development of English poetry from its beginnings down to Wordsworth and Coleridge, ‘with whom a new school in the art may be said to have been created’, though did not discuss the Romantics in any detail, concluding with a few comments on local poets William Forster, W. C. Wentworth and Henry Halloran. In 1839 a` Beckett delivered several more lectures on recent poetry; reports in Sydney papers indicate that the work of Wordsworth and Coleridge was not to his taste. The Sydney Herald 15 See P. C. Candy and J. Laurent (eds), Pioneering Culture: Mechanics’ Institutes and Schools of Arts in Australia, Auslib Press, 1994. 16 Quoted in Elizabeth Webby, ‘Literary Lectures in Early Australia’, Southerly, 40.3 (1980), p. 268.


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noted on 2 September: ‘Of Wordsworth he spoke most contemptuously and turned his poem Peter Bell into ridicule, which we must confess it deserves, but a lecturer should act fairly, and surely there is some part of Wordsworth’s writings that deserve praise!’ Interestingly, in a further lecture in 1840, a` Beckett spoke more positively about the work of Keats and Shelley, as reported by the Colonist of 14 November: ‘Keats and Shelly [sic] are two poets who have been much maligned by the reviewers, and misunderstood by the public. In truth, their genius is of too high an order to meet with that immediate appreciation which more ordinary mortals succeed in obtaining.’17 Given the suspicion with which fiction was still regarded in the first half of the century, it is not surprising that most of the earlier literary lectures focused on poetry. Playwright Samuel Prout Hill did deliver three on Drama in Sydney in 1847, while Music and Poetry was the topic of an 1849 address at the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institute by one of its founders, Redmond Barry. At Launceston, two lecturers were prepared to say something in defence of fiction. Institute president Frederick Maitland Innes gave the opening address of the 1847 season on ‘The Importance of the Cultivation of a Knowledge of General Literature, In Connection with the Circumstances of Colonial Communities’. His theme – the particular need in colonial society for a strong literary culture, as a force for intellectual, social and moral improvement – was widely argued at the time, as George Nadel demonstrated in Australia’s Colonial Culture (1957). Where Innes differed from others was in his inclusion of fiction among those ‘mental pursuits which have the strongest tendency to refine, elevate and enlarge.’ Interestingly, he took his examples not from Scott or Goldsmith but from popular recent novels by Dickens and Bulwer Lytton. Later in 1847 a Dr Paton devoted a whole lecture to ‘Light Literature’, arguing that novels should not be universally condemned ‘because some have lent their pen to other than the legitimate and wholesome ends of this species of composition’.18 Although universities were established in Sydney and Melbourne in the 1850s and in Adelaide in the 1870s, initially no lectures on English literature were given at any of them. As in England, classics was still the foundation of an education in the humanities, though the stained-glass windows in the University of Sydney’s Great Hall feature Chaucer, Spenser, Sidney, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope and Dryden, along with the founders of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, the kings and queens of Britain and other luminaries. In 1865 G. B. Barton was appointed reader in English literature at the University of Sydney; his inaugural lecture, published as The Study of English Literature (1866), stressed the continued importance of classical studies. He did, however, also publish two of the earliest studies of local writing, Literature in New South Wales (1866) and The Poets and Prose Writers of New South Wales (1866).19 Barton’s appointment ended in 1868, and there was no further teaching of English at Sydney University until 17 Ibid., pp. 269–75. 18 Ibid., pp. 276, 278–83. 19 John M. Ward, ‘Barton, George Burnett’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 3, MUP, 1969, p. 114.


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the appointment in 1887 of Mungo MacCallum as foundation Professor of Modern Language and Literature. Melbourne had established its chair of modern languages in 1882, with E. E. Morris as the first incumbent. Earlier, he had been offered the vacant chair in Adelaide, the first actually to include English in its title: the Hughes Professor of English Literature and Language and Mental and Moral Philosophy.20

Book groups and literary societies Those who could not afford to attend university, or were excluded for other reasons, such as their gender, were able to continue their education through membership of mechanics’ institutes and the literary and debating societies which became especially prominent in the last decades of the 19th century. Book groups and literary societies had existed in Australia from at least the 1820s. Initially, at a time when books were still in short supply, their main function was to allow members to share book purchases by giving them access to a communal library. Since public libraries were not yet in existence, and poor roads and inadequate transport made visits to major towns a rare event, many reading societies sprang up, especially in Tasmania. Although information about these is scanty, early groups there included the Campbell Town Book Club, the Norfolk Plains Book Society (1830–4), the New Norfolk Reading Association (1835), the Richmond Reading Society (1835–7), the Bothwell Reading Society (1835–40) and the Pontville Reading Society, as well as the Hobart Town Book Society of the 1820s, mentioned earlier. The books belonging to the Launceston Library Society, established in 1845, were in 1856 combined with those of the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute to form the basis of the Launceston Public Library.21 Similarly, the books owned by Sydney’s Australian Subscription Library made up the nucleus of the State Library of New South Wales.22 Keith Adkins has made a detailed study of the Evandale Subscription Library, established in 1847 in this town near Launceston, which operated until after World War II. Like many other libraries of this type, it initially had a collection of donated books but later ordered books and periodicals from London booksellers.23 Although the conditions of settlement in other colonies did not lend themselves to such a strong regional network, a least one group was operating in the Western District of Victoria in the 1840s. In his The Present State and Prospects of the Port Phillip District of New South Wales (1845), Charles Griffith refers to a book club ‘established in the neighbourhood of the Grange and Warren, 200 miles west of Melbourne, where there are several married settlers, who thus obtain from England all the recent periodicals and 20 Leigh Dale, The English Men. Professing Literature in Australian Universities, Toowoomba: Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 1979, pp. 27–39. 21 See Elizabeth Webby, ‘Dispelling “the stagnant waters of ignorance”: The early institutes in context’, in Candy and Laurent (eds), Pioneering Culture, pp. 41–3. 22 A Source of Inspiration and Delight, p. 16. 23 Keith Adkins, ‘Orger and Meryon: Booksellers to the Colony’, Books and Empire. Special Issue of the Bulletin of the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, 28.1–2 (2004), pp. 9–16.


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publications’. This supports evidence from other sources that such groups were mainly interested in keeping up with the latest news and literature from home. A ledger kept by one of the book club’s members, the squatter Acheson Ffrench, records activities 1845– 50. Members paid an annual subscription of £3, and among the works purchased were volumes of the Illustrated London News (later to be so frequently imitated in Australia) and Colburn’s Magazine, Dickens’ Dombey and Son (1848) and many recent travel books. Of equal note, however, are a number of works in translation, including novels by Alexandre Dumas and Georges Sand and poetry by Friedrich Schiller.24 After 1850, as a stronger literary culture began to be established in the cities, informal coteries of literary men were also set up, some of which took a more enduring shape over time. In Sydney during the 1850s, a group of journalists, writers and professional men gathered at the home of lawyer Nicol Drysdale Stenhouse, to discuss literary and other matters. John Woolley, Professor of Classics at Sydney University, was associated with this circle, as were poets William Forster and Henry Kendall. The older men provided much needed mentorship for Kendall, lending him books, arranging jobs and financial assistance and helping him get published.25 In Melbourne, Marcus Clarke and other writers formed the Yorick Club in 1867, while in Brisbane the Johnsonian Club was established by poet James Brunton Stephens, along with other writers and teachers, in 1878. Named in honour of Samuel Johnson’s London ‘Literary Club’, it was ‘instituted for the association of gentlemen connected with Journalism, Literature, the Drama, Science and Art’, together with members of the medical and legal professions. The club met monthly for literary lectures and readings, accompanied by good dining and, no doubt, drinking.26 Other societies associated with particular authors also flourished in Australia at this time. As Ken Stewart has noted, in the 1880s Melbourne could boast societies devoted to the work of Shelley, Burns, and Lamb as well as the largest Shakespeare Society in the world. It had been set up in 1884, with Professor Morris from Melbourne University as first president; members could attend monthly lectures, as well as meeting informally for reading and discussion.27 In the last decades of the century, more general literary societies proliferated, mainly in the cities. These allowed men and women to meet, usually in gender-segregated groups, to discuss their reading and debate topics of current interest. When the South Australian Literary Societies’ Union was established in October 1883, it consisted of 27 different societies based in Adelaide and its suburbs, with over 1300 members. Some of the groups had been meeting for many years and had substantial collections of books:

24 Brian Hubber, ‘ “Entertainment for Many Solitary Hours”: An 1840s Book Group on the Australian Frontier’, Bulletin of the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, 22.2 (1998), pp. 81–92. 25 See Ann-Mari Jordens, The Stenhouse Circle: Literary Life in Mid-Nineteenth Century Sydney, MUP, 1965. 26 See Patrick Buckridge and Belinda McKay (eds), By the Book. A Literary History of Queensland, UQP, 2007, pp. 24–6. 27 Ken Stewart, ‘The Colonial Literati in Sydney and Melbourne’, in Susan Dermody, John Docker and Drusilla Modjeska (eds), Nellie Melba, Ginger Meggs and Friends: Essays in Australian Cultural History, Kibble Books, 1982, pp. 185–7.


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the Adelaide Young Men’s Society, for example, had been established in 1876 and held more than 1300 volumes in its library. Despite its name, this society allowed women to join as associate members and 114 did so. Literary societies encouraged writing as well as reading, offering annual prizes for essays on set topics as well as for poems and, later, stories, with winning entries printed in the union’s annual Year Book. In 1885 a Miss Frances Lewin won the first prize for poetry for ‘Found Dead’; the following year she was awarded second place for ‘Australia’s Heroes’. By 1889, at least 150 literary societies of this type were operating in New South Wales, according to the Literary and Debating Societies’ Journal that published reports of meetings of various groups as well as papers read at some of them. As these groups were largely made up of persons intent on self-improvement, the authors discussed were mainly canonical English ones such as Wordsworth, Tennyson, Byron and Dickens. Only two Australian authors were mentioned: poets Adam Lindsay Gordon, whose life and works were discussed at a meeting of the Cleveland Excelsior Class, and Kendall. A paper on Kendall’s life and work, read before the Pitt Street Literary Association, was printed in full in the October and November issues of the Journal.28 Other information about what was being discussed at Sydney literary societies can be found in manuscript journals now housed in the Mitchell Library. ‘The Phoenix’ was compiled in 1874–7 to record the doings of the Redfern Literary Association.29 Among the subjects debated by members of the society at their weekly meetings was, on 11 August 1875, ‘Was Charles Dickens the greatest novelist of his time?’ Recitations of speeches from Shakespeare’s plays and well-known poems like ‘Young Lochinvar’ were also given and debates held against other associations, including the Cumberland Mutual Improvement Society and the Parramatta Literary Society. A decade later, Hugh Wright, a member of the Woollahra Literary and Debating Society, recorded some of the talks he gave at their meetings in 1887, including one on ‘The Free Public Library of Sydney’ and another on ‘Novels and Novel-Reading’. He is critical of the fact that the library kept locked away ‘All the leading medical and anatomical works and several works in French’, asking ‘Is it feared that licentious individuals would be always gloating over them?’ He is also critical of the books available through the lending branch of the library, as being ‘more fit as babies’ toy books than to be in a circulating library’, and does not agree with the trustees’ decision to buy no more fiction. Fiction, if it has ‘an elevating tendency’, is approved of, as are too, ‘the best of boy’s books, such as written by Capt. Marryat, Henty, Capt. Mayne Reid and especially Jules Verne’. In ‘Novels and Novel-Reading’ Wright not only defends the adventure stories published in magazines like Boys of England but the novels of Ouida and even Zola: ‘If you skim them with a tainted mind, you may find sufficient to feed a licentious imagination; but by reading

28 See Elizabeth Webby, ‘Not Reading the Nation: Australian Readers of the 1890s’, Australian Literary Studies, 22.3 (2006). 29 ‘The Phoenix’, MS journal, ML MSS A4065–67.


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them carefully you are instructed about the whims and evils of society.’ As he points out, the censoring tendency of the past 50 years is just as fatal to many of the classics of the past, from Ovid and Homer, through to mediaeval drama and poetry and the work of Swift, Fielding and Smollett.30

Writing and publishing in Australia By 1803 George Howe had taken over from George Hughes as Government Printer, and in March began publishing Australia’s first newspaper, the Sydney Gazette, where an original poem appeared just a year later. Books, along with much else, had been written in Australia from 1788, with officers of the marines Watkin Tench and David Collins competing to see who would be first to get his account of the early settlement to London for publication. While there remained demand in Britain for non-fictional and, later, fictional works about the Australian colonies, London publishers had little interest in collections of Australian poetry. So poems were regularly published in local newspapers and magazines but rarely collected in volumes. One of the ironies of 19thcentury Australian literature was that the more obviously Australian a work was, the better chance it had of finding an overseas publisher. So most fiction and non-fiction was published overseas, most poetry and drama in Australia, at the author’s expense. Ken Stewart’s analysis of the poetry and fiction titles listed in E. Morris Miller and F. J. Macartney’s Australian Literature: A Bibliography (1950) shows that, between 1850 and 1901, around 830 volumes of Australian poetry had been published, 85 per cent of them in Australia. More than half of the 1000 individual works of fiction listed appeared between 1890 and 1901; 422 of these were published in London, and only 143 in Australia.31 These figures reflect the fact that there was no publishing industry in Australia, in the sense in which we understand the term today, during this period. In order to become a bestselling novelist or successful dramatist, it was necessary to move to London, as a number of Australian-born authors did later in the century. Even such a significant publisher as George Robertson of Melbourne, active in the second half of the century, was primarily a bookseller. Almost all Australian book publication before 1890 was at the author’s expense, or by subscription. Clearly, it was easier to afford the cost of a slim volume of verse than that of a substantial novel. On the other hand, most Australian novelists did not earn a great deal from books published in Britain, especially if they lived in Australia and had to depend on agents and friends to negotiate with publishers. For them, at least before 1890, serialisation in Australian newspapers and magazines was a much more dependable source of income. It is a mistake, therefore, to assume that authors like Ada Cambridge and Rolf Boldrewood were primarily writing for 30 Hugh Wright Manuscripts, ML MSS B1655. 31 Ken Stewart, ‘Journalism and the World of the Writer: The Production of Australian Literature, 1855–1915’, in Laurie Hergenhan (ed.), The Penguin New Literary History of Australia, Penguin, 1988, pp. 181–3.


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an English market, merely because their books were eventually published there. Few authors were able to make a living from writing and these few depended heavily on journalism, supplemented in some cases by the writing of serialised fiction or plays and pantomimes. Much of the writing done in colonial Australia was, of course, never published. Much was never intended for publication, being in the form of letters, at this period the major means of communication between friends and relatives separated by long distances, the situation of all those who came to Australia during the 19th century. Much was also in the form of journals or diaries, kept by migrants on the voyage out, by explorers during their hazardous expeditions, or by those wanting to record their everyday activities, their dreams and desires, even what they had been reading. In recent years, a good deal of this personal material has been published, quarried by scholars from libraries and archives for the insights it offers into life in the new British colonies. Some fiction and poetry, as the example of the manuscript magazine written by members of Rosa Praed’s family demonstrates, also continued to circulate scribally in Australia during the 19th century.32 As there was almost nothing in the way of commercial book publishing, most of the literature published in Australia before 1890 appeared in the columns of newspapers and magazines. A remarkably large number of original poems, together with short stories, essays and the occasional serialised novel, can be found in newspapers published in both capital cities and large country towns, though much research still remains to be done for the period after 1850. The large weekly newspapers attached to the main city dailies, which flourished in the second half of the century, such as the Australasian associated with the Argus and the Sydney Mail with the Sydney Morning Herald, were particularly significant places of publication for serialised fiction, stories, poems, essays and reviews by writers such as Clarke, Kendall, Tasma, Boldrewood and Ada Cambridge. Other important weekly newspapers were the Leader, associated with the Age; the Observer with the South Australian Register; the Queenslander with the Brisbane Courier and the Australian Town and Country Journal with Sydney’s Evening News.

Literary magazines Although newspapers were regularly published in the eastern Australian colonies from 1803 onwards, it was to be another 18 years before the first magazine appeared in Sydney in 1821. This delay can be easily explained by the fact that magazines were much more of a luxury than newspapers. The earliest newspapers were established in large part to allow for easier distribution of government notices and general information. Despite initial difficulties in obtaining paper and other necessary materials, most survived because they soon became essential for the advertising of goods, land and commercial enterprises. 32 See Patricia Clarke, Rosa! Rosa! A Life of Rosa Praed, Novelist and Spiritualist, MUP, 1999.


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This was something that had to be done locally, even though most of the ‘news’ these papers contained was still coming from elsewhere. For magazines, however, there was no such commercial imperative. At the beginning of the 19th century few English magazines carried advertisements; quarterly publication was not especially attractive to advertisers and would, in any case, have been out of keeping with the tone of magazines like the Edinburgh Review. Magazines therefore relied on the appeal of their literary contents alone. For a magazine to succeed in Australia, it had to offer something that could not just as easily, and usually more cheaply, be obtained from an English import. By the 1840s English magazines, like books, were being imported in great quantities, with delays of no more than four months between publication in Britain and availability in Australia. Australian magazines included work by local, usually unknown, authors while English ones featured the latest productions of the great names of the age, such as Dickens and Thackeray. But Australian magazines also offered representations of local scenery, events and personalities that could not be found elsewhere and, as the numbers of Australian-born rose, there was a growing demand for local content. Even so, few magazines survived for more than a year or two. The earliest magazines published in Sydney and Hobart were mainly short-lived quarterlies and monthlies. The 1840s saw the end of transportation to New South Wales, an associated rise in free immigration and the development of South and Western Australia and Victoria, all of which began to issue magazines in this decade. The rapid increase in the population of Australia following the discovery of gold in New South Wales and Victoria in 1851 also produced a rapid growth in print culture, especially in Victoria. While this had a particular impact on the development of newspapers, magazines also proliferated. Melbourne became the literary centre of Australia from the 1850s through to the 1880s, with more magazines commencing there in the 1850s than in the rest of the country combined. Although most proved just as short-lived as the earlier ones, several survived for many years, demonstrating that there was now a large enough population of readers to sustain some local productions. The most successful was Melbourne Punch, the longest-lasting of many colonial copies of this enormously popular English comic magazine, which in 1855 commenced a run of 70 years. Melbourne also produced a popular fiction magazine, the Australian Journal, which ran from 1865 until 1962. According to G. B. Barton, in 1866 the Australian Journal was circulating an average of 5500 copies weekly, including 1750 in New South Wales.33 This was at least equal to the circulation of English magazines of a similar style and cost, again indicating that Australian readers were prepared to support local magazines if their contents and prices were competitive with the imported products. The Australian Journal printed much original fiction with both local and overseas settings though in 1871, when Marcus Clarke was editor, this notice announcing a more nationalistic emphasis appeared in the July number: 33 G. B. Barton, Literature in New South Wales, Thomas Richards, 1866, pp. 7–9, 88.


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The Conductor wishes intending contributors to understand that the AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL will publish no ‘original’ story, the scene of which is laid elsewhere than in the Colonies, or which does not – in some way – treat of Colonial life, or subjects of Colonial interest. Tales of the West of England, the North of Scotland, India, Baden-Baden, Venice, Kamschatcha, and other places favoured by novelists, can be culled from the English magazines and French feuilletons, in much better condition than as manufactured here. The Conductor is willing to protect native industry in the matter of tale-writing, but the tales must be ‘Colonial’, and suited for ‘Colonial wear’, not bad imitations of the French and English imported article.34

In the 1870s attempts were made to establish a more highbrow critical journal along the lines of the famous British quarterlies. The most successful of these was the Melbourne Review (1876–85). A number of Melbourne’s leading men of letters – including the banker Henry Gyles Turner, the writer A. Patchett Martin and the historian Alexander Sutherland – were among the ‘literary gentlemen’ who launched the review, ‘not as a financial speculation, but purely in the interest of literary development’. In its opening address ‘To Our Readers’, January 1876, the failure of earlier Australian monthly magazines was attributed to their over-concentration on fiction and ‘light literature’, already abundantly supplied in English periodicals and ‘our own excellent weekly papers’, together with their ‘practice of dealing too exclusively with local topics of no intrinsic interest’. In contrast, in the Melbourne Review the emphasis would fall on ‘articles on Philosophy, Theology, Science, Art and Politics’. Articles on local subjects would be admitted only if ‘They derived their value from their style and treatment, rather than from their containing allusions to places and names familiar to the Colonial reader.’35 In one of the many unfortunate examples of wasteful rivalry that dog the history of cultural production in Australia, a competing monthly magazine, the Victorian Review, was established in Melbourne in November 1879 by H. Mortimer Franklyn. It ran until 1886, for most of the time being edited by Melbourne journalist James Smith. While the Victorian Review initially featured a serialised novel, later issues were aimed squarely at readers who preferred the more serious fare of essays on general and literary topics, accompanied by reviews and poetry. The first issue’s ‘Prefatory Note’ opened with some of the usual high-sounding sentiments, though it can also read as a back-hander against the Melbourne Review: ‘It is felt by many of the leading men in Melbourne that there is wanting in Victoria a first-class Magazine which shall reflect its highest culture and express the opinions of the best thinkers of the day.’ Elsewhere in the preface there were signs of changing attitudes, as in the comment that the journal would be ‘distinctively 34 Elizabeth Webby, ‘Before the Bulletin: Nineteenth-Century Literary Journalism’, in Bruce Bennett (ed.), Cross Currents: Magazines and Newspapers in Australian Literature, Longman Cheshire, 1981, pp. 22–3. 35 Ibid., p. 26.


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Australian in tone’. The old taboos against discussion of religion, politics and other controversial topics were also renounced. In keeping with this change in policy, the first issue of the Victorian Review included Marcus Clarke’s attack on conventional religion, ‘Civilisation without Delusion’, which argued that education was the surest way to an enlightened future. Given the relatively restricted pool of literary talent in Australia at the time, it was inevitable that the Victorian Review competed with the Melbourne for contributors as well as subscribers. As the Victorian had more financial backing and so was able to pay contributors, it was able to attract work from many of the writers who had earlier featured in the pages of the Melbourne Review, such as David Blair and Catherine Helen Spence, as well as Clarke. The Victorian Review’s demise apparently owed more to the loss of this financial support than to declining numbers of subscribers; it had already won the battle with the Melbourne Review but, like literary magazines in Australia today, could not survive without subsidy. The rapid growth of the Sydney Bulletin after its establishment in 1880 marked the beginning of the end of Melbourne’s literary dominance. Although the Bulletin is now best-known from its promotion in the 1890s of an Australian literary nationalism linked to the bush, the Bulletin of the 1880s was a distinctly modern and city-centred paper. It owed its success to adoption of many of the principles of the New Journalism of the late 19th century, largely developed in North America. They included the packaging of news and other items into easily recognisable compartments as well as a greater use of illustrations, headings and subheadings to break up the vast expanses of type found in traditional publications. These changes acknowledged that a wider range of readers, and a wider range of reading situations, now needed to be catered for. Whereas the literary quarterlies of the early 19th century were clearly addressed to the gentleman reading at leisure in his study or club, many of the new weeklies of the last decades of the century recognised the need to appeal to both men and women, including those commuting to work each day on train or tram, in situations where reading would be frequently interrupted. This is perfectly illustrated in a cartoon in the Bulletin of 19 July 1880, with the caption ‘Railway porters now complain that they have much difficulty in collecting tickets. We wonder why?’ The illustration depicts a carriage tightly packed with commuters, all engrossed in copies of the Bulletin. The 15 persons represented include four women, old as well as young. While most of the male passengers wear top hats, a few do not, suggesting that the journal appeals to all classes of the community.

Drama and theatre Theatrical works were among the books carried to Australia on the First Fleet, as demonstrated by the 1789 convict production of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. There were irregular and intermittent performances in Sydney and elsewhere over the next 40 years, but also considerable resistance by clergy and others to the establishment


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of theatre in Australia. Their association with such criminal activities as prostitution and pick-pocketing, it was argued, meant that theatres were not appropriate to penal colonies. But theatrical performances, together with concerts and dancers, were an intrinsic part of 19th-century popular culture, and by the 1830s regular commercial performances had begun in both Sydney and Hobart. Most plays came from Britain, but some local ones were written and the popular Christmas pantomimes always carried some local references.36 In the 1840s, an apparent shortage of playscripts resulted in a number of plays by convict Edward Geoghegan being produced in Sydney. Many were adaptations of popular novels, which, with translations of foreign plays, provided much of the theatrical fare at a time when playwrights were paid less than scene painters. Geoghegan did, however, write a local comedy with music, The Currency Lass, which was warmly received when performed in 1844. And as early as 1845 an entirely Australian pantomime, ‘Harlequin in Australia Felix’, was produced in Geelong. We know of it only from a newspaper advertisement, though scripts of some of Geoghegan’s plays have survived as copies in the Colonial Secretary’s archives, since they needed to be officially approved before production. Ironically, most of the plays printed in Australia during the 19th century, invariably at the authors’ expense, were never performed. These were typical closet dramas of the time, blank verse tragedies heavily Shakespearean in language and form, and set in ancient Rome or 16th-century England. Popular comedies and melodramas set in Australia such as The Currency Lass were rarely considered literary enough to warrant publication, even if their authors could have afforded this, though pantomime libretti were sometimes published as souvenirs. Pantomimes flourished in Melbourne and other large centres during the second half of the century, with the adapting of traditional stories for local audiences providing employment for Clarke and other writers. Some actor-managers produced successful melodramas set in Australia, the most popular being adaptations of Clarke’s His Natural Life and Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms. But the theatrical entrepreneur J. C. Williamson, who dominated Australian commercial theatre in the last decades of the century, had no time for local playwrights. He concentrated on bringing the latest London successes to Australia, as well as such international stars as Sarah Bernhardt, who toured in 1891. This meant Australian audiences were able to keep up with what was being seen, as well as what was being written and read, in England. In some cases, they even had the advantage of audiences in other parts of the world. In September 1889 Melbourne became the second city after London to witness a professional production of an accurate English translation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Actors Janet Achurch and her husband Charles Charrington had mortgaged their salaries for a forthcoming 36 For more information on colonial theatre see Harold Love (ed.), The Australian Stage: A Documentary History, UNSWP, 1984, and entries in Philip Parsons (ed.), Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995.


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tour of Australia for Williamsons to fund the London production that led, in critic William Archer’s words, to Ibsen becoming a household name in the English-speaking world.37 Local writers and dramatists had to struggle to make a living in large part because 19th-century Australian readers and audiences were so well provided for from overseas. 37 See Deborah Campbell, ‘A Doll’s House: The Colonial Response’, in Nellie Melba, Ginger Meggs and Friends, pp. 192–210.



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When the first boatloads of British settlers disembarked in Sydney Cove in early 1788, they carried the artefacts, implements and practices of late 18th-century literacy into Indigenous Australian life-worlds. Aboriginal people were using several modes of graphic signification, in rock paintings and engravings, on message-sticks, and in the ground drawings that accompanied oral storytelling. The clans around Sydney Harbour painted images of birds, sea creatures and animals, as well as abstract designs on rock, bark, wooden weapons, animal skins and human bodies. In addition, piercing, scarification and other inscriptions of the body were used to signify the wearer’s identity, intention, social affiliations and level of religious initiation. Important also were the fleeting, intangible ‘logograms written into the air’,1 the ceremonial dance movements central to Indigenous religious practice, and the hundreds of readable hand signals and other body movements necessary for silent communication while hunting, or to convey information to people out of earshot.2 Not all modes of signification were practised in all parts of Australia. Indigenous cultures differ from region to region. Yet everywhere, whatever combination of signifying systems was used, Aboriginal people had for thousands of years been engaged in practices of communication and storing and retrieving information that might broadly be called writing and reading. Consequently, for Indigenous Australians, the arrival of the British in 1788 did not trigger a shift from Aboriginal orality to European literacy, but rather an entanglement between radically different reading and writing cultures. As Aboriginal people assimilated European material culture into their life-world without a set of instructions, the implements of inscription and the characters of the roman alphabet were ‘not what they were made to be by Europeans but what they have become’ in the eyes of Aboriginal people.3

1 A. Gaur, Literacy and the politics of writing, Intellect, 2000, p. 33. 2 W. E. Roth, ‘The expression of ideas by manual signs: a sign-language’, in D. J. Umiker-Sebeok and T. A. Sebeok (eds), Aboriginal sign languages of the Americas and Australia, vol. 2, Plenum Press, 1978, pp. 273–301; A. W. Howitt, ‘Gesture language’, in ibid., pp. 303–15. 3 N. Thomas, Entangled Objects, Harvard UP, 1991, p. 4.


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Practices of literacy There is only one roman alphabet, but many ways of practising literacy. Reading and writing practices are always shaped by micro-historical circumstances, and they are invariably entangled with ideology, power dynamics and institutional structures. Missions and reserves were not the only places where Indigenous Australians first engaged with reading and writing. In the past, as today, Aboriginal people have developed their own cultures of literacy. On occasions, Indigenous Australians developed cultures of writing with little or no modelling or guidance from Europeans. In traditional contexts, Aboriginal people formed their own ideas about writing on the basis of their own practices, values and needs. Writing was from the outset perceived and evaluated through Aboriginal frames of reference. Yet it entered Indigenous life-worlds embodied in particular material forms and social practices. Writing’s uses are not self-evident; it has no inherent self-evident meanings or capabilities. In traditional settings, therefore, writing’s value, meaning and manner of use depended on how it was perceived by Aboriginal people using their own cultural objects and practices as points of reference. On missions and reserves, Indigenous children and young adults learned to read and write in tightly regulated institutional environments, as part of the oppressive but ‘elevating’ apparatus of formal schooling, colonial governance and Christian proselytising. These sites of reading and writing were dynamic, complex intercultural zones where literacy became a powerful political practice and, if conditions were right, writing was carried out in traditionally oriented ways. On missions and reserves, European etiquettes and ideologies of writing were formally taught to Aboriginal people, but long-established Indigenous perceptions and social protocols of reading and writing sometimes continued. Aboriginal people on missions and reserves thus had a dual perception of literacy and its associated material culture. Although young people were formally schooled into literacy, much writing took place in secret, out of sight of mission and reserve staff, often at the behest of elders who had not been schooled in the arts of writing and reading alphabetic script. On missions and reserves, European conventions cloaked practices of literacy based on Indigenous proprieties. Missions and reserves were administered bureaucratically. Bureaucracies are a means of governance through writing. As well as insulating officials from the consequences of their decisions, the bureaucratic administration of Aboriginal people’s lives had two other important effects. First, the bureaucratic system interpellated each Aboriginal person as an individual and a member of a particular race; second, bureaucratic governance induced the production of written documents by Aboriginal people themselves. The apparatus set up to administer the protection of Aboriginal people thus elicited


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a great deal of Aboriginal writing, especially when Aboriginal people saw how their letters and petitions could carry their complaints over the local reserve manager’s head, and make their views known to higher authorities in the city. With regard to writing, colonial governance was thus not only repressive, it was also malignantly productive. It required Aboriginal people to produce written texts and to exercise individual agency. The bureaucratic system demanded, in other words, that Aboriginal people become authors in the European sense. The places within which Aboriginal people did much of their writing in the 19th century had much in common with the institutions where Europe’s vagabonds and paupers were confined and disciplined. To ‘open up’ the land for pastoralism and agriculture, colonial governments enclosed Aboriginal people on mission stations and government reserves. These were poorly funded, badly resourced and inadequately staffed. In them Aboriginal people were subjected to tight regulation, strict discipline and close surveillance. Some nuclear families were allowed to live together; others suffered the removal of their children to dormitories. Aboriginal people whose subjectivity was formed through affiliations with places, kin and spiritual beings were each assigned a Christian name and a new individual identity in terms of their gender, age, marital status and degree of colour.

Literacy and the Stolen Generations In the Sydney region, the first Indigenous Australians to read alphabetic script were the so-called orphaned children who, from 1789 onwards, were taken into the homes of white, self-proclaimed philanthropists and used as servants. From those early colonial times, the history of Aboriginal literacy cannot be separated from the history of the thousands of children who were removed from their families to be raised in nonIndigenous households or in institutions. The practice of child removal which began in the early years at Sydney Cove became institutionalised on the missions and reserves that were established during the protectionist era in the middle decades of the 19th century. Schools, and sometimes empty promises of schooling, were part of the long history of separating Indigenous children from their families. Many people associated schooling and literacy with child-stealing. In the early 1840s, an Aboriginal leader in Victoria ‘complained in his anger that the white fellow had stolen their country and that I [the district Protector, E. S. Parker] was stealing their children by taking them away to live in huts, and work, and “read the book like whitefellows” ’.4 The issue was not that literacy itself is inherently and inevitably pernicious. For Indigenous Australians – as for Native Americans and the First Nations, M´etis and Inuit peoples of Canada whose children were removed from their families to be educated in residential schools – the 4 E. S. Parker, Report, 1 January 1842 to 31 August 1843, quoted in M. F. Christie, Aborigines in Colonial Victoria, 1835–1886, SUP, 1979, p. 126.


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problem lay not in literacy per se, but in the harsh, institutional settings in which literacy was imparted to their children, and in the severing of the intergenerational channels of learning. In Australia today, these children are known as the Stolen Generations. Their history became a matter of public knowledge and debate in 1997, after the publication of Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. This 700-page report, which received intense media attention, contains evidence that Aboriginal parents had had their children torn from their arms, or were deceived into relinquishing their children for their own educational good.5 The complex implication of Aboriginal literacy and schooling with cultural genocide is a sensitive issue. Without at all denying the profound hurt and the ongoing suffering caused by the separation of Indigenous children from their families, it remains true to say that a significant number of Aboriginal parents saw formal schooling as potentially empowering, and were keen to see their children educated, preferably in day schools where they were able to continue living at home with their relations. Schooling was usually preferred over domestic service or pastoral work, where violence and mistreatment were not uncommon and there was little opportunity to secure a better future. Writing from a domestic placement in the town of Clare in South Australia, for example, an Aboriginal mother, Jessie Lindsay, wrote to the Native Protector in 1896, asking him to see that my daughter Grace Power is sent to school at Point Pearce. I hear that she is working in a married person’s cottage. I was asking why was it she is writing so badly as she writes to me from time to time & I don’t see any improvement . . . I wish her my daughter to go to school as she is not 14 year of age yet . . . I wish her to go to school and look after her little sister . . . If she is not removed from that person’s cottage I shall go down and take her away.6

If literacy eroded Indigenous cultures and worldviews, it was not due to the alphabet’s allegedly inherent ability to reproduce speech in graphic form. One cannot just read and write: one has to read and write something. Far more damaging was separation from their families, and the de-authorising of Aboriginal knowledge and spiritual beliefs. Unlike writing, reading leaves no necessary trace. Yet repetitive copying of words on paper is a means of documenting and securing a memory of what has been read.

What did Aboriginal people read and write? What kinds of texts did Aboriginal people create and read in colonial times? And under what circumstances were their writing and reading abilities learned and practised? On 5 See Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children From Their Families, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1997, pp. 280–3. 6 Jessie Lindsay to Mr Hamilton, Native Protector, 17 September 1896, South Australian Aborigines Department, Correspondence Received, South Australian Public Record Office, GRG 52/1, 1896, Item 38.


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all missions and reserves, all children were required to attend school, but for the boys especially, there were many distractions, as they were required to help with the physical work necessary to make cash-strapped institutions financially viable. Off the missions and reserves, children were occasionally taught by educated friends and patrons. Some taught themselves by copying what others did. Almost none read poetry and novels; some read the Bible; and an unknown number wrote letters to relatives and friends. Significant numbers read newspapers or had the paper read aloud to them. As in Europe, where newspapers formed a basis of the formation of imagined national communities, Aboriginal groups developed a sense of common history and a shared future. On 12 April 1907, 18 Ngarrindjeri men on Point Macleay Mission in South Australia published a petition in the Adelaide Advertiser demanding ‘more food and less prayer’ after reading in the newspapers about the successful demands of the Coranderrk residents in Victoria.7 As Aboriginal children practised writing and reading their lines about British culture heroes such as Captain Cook, and the Christian virtues of hard work, they were learning things other than spelling and penmanship.8 One can only speculate as to what was going on in their minds as their schoolteachers instructed them to write: Captain Cook. Captain Cook. Captain Cook. Doing nothing is the hardest of work. Doing nothing is the hardest of work. Doing nothing is the hardest of work.

A whole page of each of these lines was penned in impeccable copperplate in 1896 by Jessie Lindsay’s 13-year-old daughter, Grace Power, at the request of the South Australian Native Protector, who wished to disprove Lindsay’s assertion that her daughter’s writing was deteriorating.9 In the eyes of the white settler community Grace Power’s copperplate, and the content of the lines, reflected well on the Protector’s professional expertise as a builder of literacy and moral fibre among his Aboriginal charges. Another white-sponsored display of Aboriginal penmanship was produced in the early 1850s as a gift for the Rev. Matthew Hale by a young Kaurna man at Poonindie Mission in South Australia: Whenever I take my walks abroad, How my poor I [sic] see. What shall I render to my God for all his gifts to me? 7 Point Macleay Natives, ‘Want More Food and Less Prayer’, Adelaide Advertiser, 12 April 1907. Bain Attwood and Andrew Markus (eds), The Struggle for Aboriginal Rights: A Documentary History (A&U, 1999) pp. 56–7. 8 Grace Power, South Australian Aborigines Department, Correspondence Received, South Australian Public Record Office, GRG 52/1, 1896, Item 287. 9 Ibid.


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Not more than others I deserve, yet God hath given me more; for I have food while others starve, or beg from door to door. The poor wild natives whom I meet, Half-naked I behold, While I am clothed from head to feet And covered from the cold. While some poor wretches scarce can tell Where they may lay their head, I have a home within to dwell And rest upon my bed. While others early learn to swear And curse and lie and steal, Lord, I am taught your name to fear And do thy holy will. And these thy favours day by day To me above the rest, Then let me love thee more than they And try to serve thee best.10

Although the writer was not the author of these lines, he was expressing his regard and gratitude to Matthew Hale who had taught him the Christian virtues.

Colonial fantasies of Aboriginal voices in poetry and prose Indigenous Australian speech was first described in writing when the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay on 18 January 1788. Watkin Tench recorded that a group of some 40 Indigenous Australians assembled on the beach, ‘shouting and making many uncouth signs and gestures’. Tench also described their ‘muttering’, their ‘immoderate fits of laughter’, and their practice of ‘talking to each other at the same time with such rapidity and vociferation as I had never before heard’. He pronounced the local people ‘noisy, clamorous, and insistent’ and noted that they repeated several times the word whurra, ‘Be gone!’11 The message was clear and unequivocal. From the time of first contact, Governor Arthur Phillip and some of his officers tried to describe the local languages and transcribe Aboriginal utterances. As well as recording words and phrases from the languages of Port Jackson, they remarked on the nature of Aboriginal speech, the characteristic sound patterns of the local languages, and the varying tones and modulations of Indigenous voices. In a context where there 10 Published in J. Harris, One Blood, 2nd edn, Albatross Books, 1994, pp. 342–3. 11 Watkin Tench, A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay; with an account of New South Wales . . . (J. Debrett, 1789), reprinted in Elizabeth Webby (ed.), Colonial Voices (UQP, 1989), p. 54.


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was initially no shared vocabulary at all, cross-cultural dialogue often depended on sign language and modulations of voice. Tench noted the ‘muttering’ of an old man as he touched the clothing of a white boy. He also mentioned the local people’s ‘loud exclamation’ upon seeing that the newcomers’ clothing served as a second skin. When a young man, Arabanoo, was captured in late 1788, Tench described the captive’s ‘most piercing and lamentable cries of distress’. As Arabanoo’s anguish subsided over time, he participated in the newcomers’ after-dinner language games, complying with his captors’ urgings to ‘repeat the names of things in his language, which he never hesitated to do with the utmost alacrity, correcting our pronunciation when erroneous’.12 The First Fleet journals contain transcriptions of words in the Indigenous languages of the Sydney region. Such documentation was extensive enough to allow a present-day linguist such as Jakelin Troy to reconstruct what she calls ‘the Sydney Language’.13 Meticulous as they aimed to be regarding the Aboriginal languages, some of the early colonists lapsed shamelessly into cross-cultural ventriloquism when it came to recording Aboriginal speech in English. Tench’s rendition of Bennelong’s justification for assaulting his wife, for example, echoes the stentorian tones of a villain of gothic romance. According to Tench, Bennelong proclaimed, ‘ “She is now . . . my property. I have ravished her by force from her tribe, and I will part with her to no person whatever until my vengeance shall be glutted.” ’14 Colonial Australian poetry affords many fanciful, inauthentic samples of Aboriginal speech in English. As Elizabeth Webby has noted, fictional portrayals of Indigenous Australians in verse were shaped primarily by literary conventions of the day,15 and by Enlightenment theories of economic and cultural advancement. Considering themselves as having progressed to the highest level of civilisation, Europeans positioned themselves at the vanguard of cultural advancement and deemed Indigenous peoples to be the least culturally advanced because they had not progressed beyond hunting and gathering. In poems such as ‘The Native’s Lament’ and ‘The Gin’, Aboriginal speech is rendered in conventional literary English, with some Indigenous words included to lend authenticity to the narrator’s voice. ‘The Native’s Lament’, published anonymously in the Colonial Times, 5 May 1826, is a dramatic monologue in which a fictional Aboriginal speaker declaims the manifold losses and injustices he has endured as a result of the coming of Europeans to Van Diemen’s Land, now known as Tasmania. At a time when racial violence in Van Diemen’s Land was intensifying dramatically, ‘The Native’s Lament’ presented readers with the fantasy of a Pallawah (Indigenous Tasmanian) man in the literary role of the rustic swain, expressing his love for his

12 Tench, A Narrative . . ., pp. 58–9. 13 Jakelin Troy, The Sydney Language, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, 1993. 14 Quoted in J. Kenny, Bennelong: First Notable Aboriginal, Royal Australian Society with Bank of New South Wales, Sydney, 1973, p. 37. 15 Elizabeth Webby, ‘The Aboriginal in Early Australian Literature’, Southerly, 40.1 (March 1980), p. 45.


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country in rhyming couplets of anapestic tetrameter, with lashings of alliteration and assonance: Oh! where are the wilds I once sported among, When free as my clime through its forests I sprung; When no track but the few which our fires had made, Had tarnished the carpet that nature had laid; When the lone waters dashed down the darksome ravine; O’erhung by the shade of the Huon’s dark green; When the broad morning sun o’er our mountains could roam, And see not a slave in our bright Island home.16

A similar form of ventriloquism can be seen in Hugo’s poem, ‘The Gin’, published in the Sydney Gazette on 16 July 1831, when frontier violence was rife in New South and Queensland. Webby suggests that this poem articulates white colonial guilt and documents traditional Aboriginal life-ways and languages.17 In the first six stanzas, Toongulla, a young wife and mother, celebrates the beautiful, bountiful land and sea shores of ‘Coodge’ (Coogee, now a popular surf beach in Sydney). When Toongulla’s husband Bian fails to return to camp for their evening meal, however, she fears he has been lured away from his family by the white man, and she yearns hopelessly for a time when the intruders will depart: ‘Avaunt ye from our merry land! Ye that so boast our souls to save, Yet treat us with such niggard hand: We have no hope but in the grave.’18

Aboriginal speech was represented in prose as well as in poetry. In ‘Warrup’s Account: Smith, A Lad of Eighteen, found dead, May 8th, 1839’, George Grey renders the testimony of a fictional Western Australian tracker, Warrup, in language designed to pass in England as authentic Aboriginal English: 7th day. The next day away, away, away, away, returning on our tracks returning, on our tracks returning. At Barramba we sit down; we eat bread and meat; they eat fresh – freshwater mussels; the natives eat not fresh-water mussels. . . . Away, away we go (I, Mr Roe, and Kinchela), along the shore away, along the shore away, along the shore away. We see a paper – the paper of Mortimer and Spofforth. I see Mr Smith’s footsteps ascending a sand-hill; onwards I go regarding his footsteps. I see Mr Smith dead. We commence digging the earth. . . . 19

Although the conspicuous repetitions create an impression that Warrup’s account may have been accurately transcribed, the poetic syntax (for example, ‘well do the horses 16 Ibid., p. 46. 17 Ibid., p. 47. 18 Ibid., p. 49. 19 George Grey, Journals of Two Expeditions of Disovery in North-West and Western Australia, during the years 1837, 38 and 39, vol. 2 (T. & W. Boone, 1841), pp. 346–50.


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feed’, ‘greatly did I weep, and much I grieved’) is unlike authentic transcripts of Aboriginal English of the period. Warrup’s ‘testimony’ drifts between fiction and fact, prose and poetry, scientific reportage and literary narrative. Grey’s writings were products of a pre-disciplinary era when fiction and fact intermingled routinely. Despite Grey’s extensive Aboriginal word lists and his renditions of Warrup’s Aboriginal English, readers engage with little other than Grey’s literary stylisations of Aboriginal speech. Authentic or not, Grey’s ethnological ‘research’ helped win him the governorship of South Australia from 1840, and of New Zealand from 1845. Less encumbered with literary flourishes was the 1849 report by Galmarra (often referred to as Jacky Jacky) on the death of explorer Edward Kennedy in Cape York.20 Galmarra’s Wonnarua country was thousands of miles to the south in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney. After Kennedy was speared to death in 1848, Galmarra made his way back to Sydney alone. His narrative of Kennedy’s final days is lucid and engaging, if perhaps rendered melodramatic by a white editorial hand: I said to him [the badly wounded Kennedy], ‘Don’t look far away,’ as I thought he would be frightened; I asked him often, ‘Are you well now?’ and he said ‘I don’t care for the spear wound in my leg, Jackey, but for the other two spear wounds in my side and back,’ and said, ‘I am bad inside, Jackey.’ I told him blackfellows always die when he got spear in there (the back) . . . He said, ‘I am out of wind, Jackey;’ I asked him, Mr Kennedy, are you going to leave me?’ and he said, ‘Yes, my boy, I am going to leave you,’ he said, ‘I am very bad, Jackey; you take the books, Jackey, to the captain, but not the big ones, the Governor will give anything for them;’ I then tied up the papers, he then said, ‘Jackey, give me paper, and I will write;’ I gave him paper and pencil, and he tried to write, and he then fell back and died, and I caught him as he fell back and held him, and I then turned round myself and cried.21

At one end of the spectrum of fictional Aboriginal voices, we have what might be called tame speech; at the other end we have wild speech, utterances that remain outside the realm of coherent language and intelligible meaning. The term wild speech comes from Charles Harpur’s poem ‘The Creek of the Four Graves’ (1845), which tells the story of a white settler who ventures into the ‘wilderness’ with four ‘bold and trusted men’, seeking additional pastures for his livestock. On their first night in the bush, a band of Aboriginal men attack the explorers, killing all but one, whom they pursue for some distance before abandoning the chase. Harpur’s descriptions of the strange, wild landscape, the bloody attack, and the ensuing chase all appeal strongly to the mind’s eye. He also, however, engages the reader’s aural imagination by creating a soundscape as well as a landscape. Prominent in the soundscape of the early part of the poem are 20 Sydney Morning Herald, 6 March 1849; reprinted in Ken Goodwin and Alan Lawson (eds), The Macmillan Anthology of Australian Literature, Macmillan, 1990, pp. 274–5. 21 Ibid.


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the ‘terrific cries’ of the Aboriginal warriors as they burst out of hiding to attack the explorers. Insofar as these yells and screams are imagined as wordless cries, they suggest that the Aboriginal men, like the land, are dangerous and uncultivated. Harpur indicates that these are wild men, ‘whose wild speech no word for mercy hath’. The belief that Aboriginal people had developed only primitive, wild languages and crude modes of speech both reflected and reconfirmed colonists’ racist belief in the legal fiction of terra nullius, the idea that prior to Britain’s claims of discovery and ownership, Australia was a land belonging to no-one. Nor did Pidgin English afford Aboriginal people intelligibility or respect. In their study of Indigenous voices in the colonial South Australian press, Foster and M¨uhlh¨ausler found that Aboriginal speech, if heard at all, was either mediated or invented by the dominant colonial culture. Pidgin English was initially viewed as a middle ground, a no man’s land where speakers of different languages could meet. By the 1880s, however, its initial neutrality was giving way. Pidgin became ‘a marker of childishness and social inferiority, and that [was] . . . eventually appropriated by white society as part of the exotic background against which colonial nationalism developed.’22

Bennelong, Biraban, and Benjamin: early Indigenous authors of alphabetic writing In early colonial times, before Aboriginal people had learned to read and write alphabetic script, they exercised their authority by dictating to an amanuensis the exact words they wished to be recorded on paper. This mode of authorship began in 1796, when Bennelong dictated a letter to Mr Phillips, steward to the British Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, one of the most powerful men in the world at the time. Mr Phillips and his wife had nursed Bennelong through a grave illness during his visit to England in the early 1790s.23 The difference between transcription and dictation is significant. When a person dictates the exact words that they wish to be written down, they assert a form of authority that is not manifest when their words are merely being ‘collected’ as objects of European knowledge, with or without the speaker’s awareness and permission. With dictation, the scribe is accountable to the Aboriginal speaker. To dictate is to specify the exact words that are to be written down, and the text is usually read back to the author to verify its accuracy. Authority lies with the speaker, not with the amanuensis. Whether wording a message, or ruling an empire, to dictate is to assert one’s authority.

22 Robert Foster and Peter M¨uhlh¨ausler, ‘Native Tongue, Captive Voice: The Presentation of the Aboriginal “voice” in colonial South Australia’, Language and Communication, 16.1 (2006), p. 1. 23 For a facsimile copy and further discussion of Bennelong’s letter, see Penny van Toorn, Writing Never Arrives Naked (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2006), p. 55.


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Sidney Cove New South Wales Augst 29 1796 Sir, I am very well. I hope you are very well. I live at the Governor’s. I have every day dinner there. I have not my wife: another man took her away: we have had murry doings: he spear’d me in the back, but I better now: his name is now Carroway. all my friends alive & well. Not me go to England no more. I am at home now. I hope Sir you send me anything you please Sir. hope all are well in England. I hope Mrs Phillip very well. You nurse me Madam when I sick. You very good Madam: thank you Madam, & I hope you remember me Madam, not forget. I know you very well Madam. Madam I want stockings. thank you Madam; send me two Pair stockings. You very good Madam. Thank you Madam. Sir, you give my duty to Ld Sydney. Thank you very good my Lord. very good: hope very well all family. very well. Sir, send me you please some Handkerchiefs for Pocket. you please Sir send me some shoes: two pair you please Sir.

The unknown amanuensis seems to have recorded Bennelong’s words verbatim but used English spellings of the day, not attempting to reproduce his pronunciation phonetically. Bennelong’s letter is the earliest example of Indigenous Australian authorship in alphabetic script, and it used a range of discourses audible in the voicescape of Port Jackson. In certain respects, the letter conforms to British colonial epistolary norms. Like many a letter from the colonies, it offers polite greetings, snippets of news and requests for articles to be sent out from England. Bennelong had sat with Governor Phillip at his writing desk as he penned his official and personal correspondence. By looking on and conversing with Arthur Phillip, it is possible that he gained his understanding of how letters worked as carriers of information, articles of exchange, and a means of reaffirming social ties. In other ways, however, the letter deviates markedly from polite late 18th-century social decorum, most obviously by addressing several people in turn, alternating between familiar and formal registers, and asking bluntly and abruptly for specific gifts. Reading Bennelong’s letter entirely in relation to British colonial epistolary norms would, however, be inappropriate: such an approach would deny the influence of Bennelong’s own culture. Equally inappropriate would be any attempt to analyse the letter exclusively in relation to a discrete, timeless, ‘Aboriginal’ cultural order: to do so would be to ignore the intercultural entanglement between the British and the Indigenous peoples of Port Jackson. During the eight and a half years between the arrival of the first British settlers in January 1788 and the production of Bennelong’s letter in August 1796, Bennelong was himself an important agent and medium of interaction between the British colonists and the Indigenous clans around Port Jackson. In terms of its language and socio-political functions, the letter is a product of the intercultural entanglement that Bennelong so vividly evokes when he mentions in the same breath his spearing and his regular dinners with the Governor. To understand the cultural and socio-political dynamics at work in Bennelong’s letter, it is necessary to contextualise it historically, both as a verbal text


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and a material object. While Bennelong’s letter is comparable to the genres of colonial bureaucratic writing to which Bennelong was exposed, it also serves a purpose in the cycles of communication and gift exchange that is typical both of English patronage systems and of Aboriginal kinship networks. In this context, Bennelong’s authorial practices can be seen as a product of his individual agency working within the dynamic intercultural contact zone that emerged after 1788. Another early Indigenous co-author was Biraban, an Awabakal clan-head of high degree and a custodian of the Eaglehawk ceremonies, who worked from the mid-1820s to the early 1840s near Lake Macquarie north of Sydney with missionary Launcelot Threlkeld, translating the Bible into the Awabakal language.24 Many words and phrases were recorded in Threlkeld’s copious notes. They were sounded out and explained by Biraban, who was also called Eaglehawk. Biraban inspired Eliza Hamilton Dunlop’s poem ‘The Eagle Chief ’, published in the Sydney Gazette on 21 April 1842. Biraban was also a clandestine historian. Occasionally, in the process of supplying Threlkeld with ethnographic information, Biraban documented some of the sad facts of his life. For instance, among the ‘Specimens of a Dialect of the Aborigines of New South Wales’, in Threlkeld’s book An Australian Language, we find Biraban’s announcement that he is married to a woman he calls Patty, and that their child has died. Bo-un-to-a – the feminine pronoun, she. Unne bountoa Patty ammoung kin-ba. This she Patty with me. This is Patty with me. [Patty was Biraban’s wife.] Ammoung katoa bountoa wa-nun. Me with she move-will. She will go with me. Wonni bountoa tea unnung tatte ammoun-ba. Child she to me there dead mine. My child there is dead.25

Biraban is only one of many people who have smuggled their perspectives and histories into official written records. During the 1884 inquiry into the treatment of Aboriginal prisoners on Rottnest Island in Western Australia, a Nyoongar man known as Benjamin delivered the following oral testimony, knowing that his evidence would be included in the official written report: I come from Eyre’s Sand Patch. I am here for stealing; another blackfellow ‘coax’em’ me. I have just arrived here. I little bit like Rottnest. I am going back at lambing time. I get plenty to eat. I am warm, but have a rotten blanket. I only half work’em. The Warders are kind and not sulky. I will not return to prison when I once get away from this. I walked from Eyre’s Sand Patch to Albany naked, with a chain on my neck. My 24 For a transcript of Biraban’s account of his dream, see ibid., p. 47. 25 Quoted in Launcelot Threlkeld, An Australian Language as Spoken by the Awabakal, ed. John Fraser, Sydney: Government Printer, 1892, p. 135.


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neck was sore from chain. I knocked up from the long walk. Policeman Truelove no good. He hit me for knocking up. Policeman Wheelock a good fellow, nothing sulky. I like ship, I was not sick. I do not like walking so far. I came with a bullock chain round my neck from Eyre Sand Patch to Albany. When it rained my neck was very sore from the chain. I have the same blanket I came with a fortnight ago. I had a cold in Fremantle. The doctor saw me at Fremantle, when I was ready to come to Rottnest. I was ill, and when I got here I was very ill. My trousers and shirt I came from Albany in are now in the Prison. I gave them to a native this morning. I did not get any from the Prison. What clothes I have on were obtained by inter-change with other natives. I had no clothes given me from Eyre Sand Patch to Albany. I was quite naked all the way, no clothes or blanket. Three of us came from Fremantle, we were a little ill. One of us was left behind at Fremantle, sick. He has now come over. My companions have the same clothes and blankets that they came with. My clothes and blanket were obtained at Albany.26

Comparing Benjamin’s testimony with that of the other prisoners, it becomes apparent that his statement was not a monologue, but rather a set of answers to a series of questions that are not included with the testimony. The transcript is in fact only one half of a dialogue, and each prisoner was asked the same questions in the same order. Yet Benjamin manages to break out of the constraints imposed by the fixed agenda. He puts on record the fact that policeman Truelove abused and humiliated him by forcing him to walk, naked and in chains, all the way from Eyre Sand Patch to Albany. Benjamin’s testimony returns again and again to this humiliating experience. Nothing the questioners do can divert Benjamin from his story. By returning time after time to what he wants to divulge for the record, he asserts his narratorial authority.

Early Aboriginal authorship and traditional Indigenous law One of the most significant sites of early Aboriginal writing was Coranderrk Reserve, established in 1863 north-east of Melbourne in Victoria. William Barak and his cousin Simon Wonga were the traditional leaders and primary spokesmen on matters concerning country and community at Coranderrk. As a boy in 1835, Barak had witnessed John Batman’s illegal treaty, through which vast tracts of land were allegedly surrendered by the traditional owners in return for blankets, flour, tools and trinkets. The Coranderrk residents often wrote as a collective, knowing that this was necessary if they were to be heard and taken seriously by the government authorities responsible for their protection and welfare. Their solidarity was partly based on their longstanding connections. The Coranderrk residents were members of the Kulin Confederacy, an alliance based on intermarriage, ceremonial connections and language ties. 26 Report to the Committee to Inquire into Treatment of Aboriginal Native Prisoners of the Crown in this Colony, Legislative Council, Perth, 1884, Paper 32.


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One of William Barak’s major achievements was to bring the Coranderrk community together as a formidable political force. Each of the large Coranderrk petitions serves as a snapshot of a political body in the process of constituting itself on paper. The following petition was produced in late 1881, after almost half a century of serious disruption to traditional ways: Coranderrk Station, November 16th 1881. SIR, We want the Board and the Inspector, Captain Page, to be no longer over us. We want only one man here, and that is Mr. John Green, and the station to be under the Chief Secretary; then we will show the country that the station could self-support itself. These are the names of those that wish this to be done. Wm. Barak, X Thos. Mickie, X Dick Richard, X Thos. Avoca, X Thos. Gilman ,X Johnny Terrick, Lankey, X Spider, X M.Simpson, H. Harmoney Alfred Morgan, Robert Wandon, Alick Campbell, X Thos. Dunolly, Alfred Davis, Willie Parker, Willie Hamilton, X XJohnny Charles, Jemima Wandon, Emma Campbell, X Jenny Campbell, Lizzy Charles, X Eliza Mickie, X Roy, X Ellen Richard, X Harriett, X Annie Hamilton, X Mary, X Jessie Dunolly, Louisa Hunter, X Dinah Hunter, Caroline Morgan, X Maggie Harmoney


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Lizzie Davis Metild Simpson, X Edith Brangy Mary Ann McClennan, Bella Lee, Alice Grant, Thomas Dick, William Edmond Alexander Briggs, Abel Terrick, Finnemore Jackson, Joseph Hunter John Patterson.27

This petition is typical of many produced at Coranderrk. These documents were particularly powerful weapons in the hands of Coranderrk’s Aboriginal community because they carried the people’s complaints and requests over the reserve manager’s head to his superior, the Chief Protector in Melbourne, who would request a report from the reserve manager, who was then required to defend his decisions and actions. The order of names on many of the Coranderrk petitions reflected the traditional social structure based on gender, age and land. The local clan-head, William Barak, is almost invariably at the top, followed by the other senior men (who all sign with crosses), then the younger men (who could write their own names), then the older (usually non-literate) women, then the younger (literate) women, and finally the children, who wrote their own names if they were old enough to attend school. The ordering of people’s names on paper can be taken as evidence that when the senior clan-heads were on their own traditional country, the social process of producing written texts could in fact consolidate the authority of the older generations. This finding is contrary to the expectations of media theorists such as Jack Goody and Walter J. Ong, who see writing itself as the cause of a shift of power from the old to the young.28 The Coranderrk community was not always unanimous in its views, however.29 Diane Barwick has argued the residents were divided by intersecting lines of social difference based on language, age, moiety, totem, gender, caste, and clan. Some social categories were traditional to Indigenous cultures; others, such as the distinction between ‘halfcastes’ and ‘full-bloods’, were imposed by white legislators. Despite the resilient sense of solidarity of the Coranderrk community, rifts and factional disputes periodically 27 ‘Minutes of evidence taken before the board appointed to enquire into the condition of the Aboriginal station at Coranderrk’, p. 98, Victorian Public Record Series 1226, box 4, Public Record Office Victoria. For their valuable advice and assistance, my sincere thanks go to Victor Briggs, Kerry Paton and Gayle Harradine at the Koori Heritage Trust, Melbourne; Jim Wandin, Joy Murphy (n´ee Wandin) and Judy Wilson at Healesville; Margaret Briggs Wirrpunda and Zeta Thomson at Worawa Aboriginal College, Healesville; Irene Swindle at the Koori Coop, Healesville; and Jeannette Crew and Steve Ross in Sydney. 28 Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy, Methuen, 1982. 29 Diane E. Barwick, Rebellion at Coranderrk, Aboriginal History Inc., 1998, p. 8.


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erupted. In 1883, for example, Mrs Jeannie Rowan complained that ‘as the half-castes and blacks are kept unfriendly with one another the blacks are unable to get their complaints put down in writing excepting by little children, whereas up till this time the half-castes always did the writing for all the people at the station’.30 At Coranderrk and other reserves and mission stations, those who were able to write penned the letters of those who had not been taught to express their requests and complaints on paper. This division of the labour of writing remains today, as a significant number of Indigenous life-writers engage editorial assistants to help them turn their life-stories into a manuscript suitable for publication as a book. In Indigenous Australian societies, the most powerful spiritual and ceremonial knowledge has always been the responsibility of the older, fully initiated men, although women have their own important spheres of sacred knowledge and political influence. This gendered gerontocratic social structure is preserved by customary laws that restrict the flow of particular types of knowledge between men and women, and from the old to the young and the unworthy adults. The most potent songs and ceremonies were not disclosed to the uninitiated. Young people had to wait until their elders decided they were ready to receive these songs and ceremonies that activated the powers of the spirit world. Yet for those living on missions and reserves, literacy and the English language were powerful tools of another kind, tools that enabled Indigenous people to communicate with new authorities within colonial institutions that were radically reshaping their world. As young people of both sexes became literate and fluent in English, their ability to negotiate with government authorities gave them political opportunities and a social status they would not otherwise have acquired at such an early age. In this context, Ong’s prediction of a change in the balance of power between the young and the old is supported. At Coranderrk Reserve, the growth of alphabetic literacy thus created the potential, but not the inevitability, for certain kinds of power to shift from older to younger generations, and from males to females. Unlike most forms of European writing, where the author and scribe are one, the Coranderrk community devised an effective distribution of responsibility when they created their petitions. The senior clan-head was deemed the author, whether or not he was able to write. A trusted literate young kinsman served as a scribe, and the relevant members of the reserve community were deemed the owners. A different culture of writing developed in Tasmania at the Wybalenna Settlement on Flinders Island off the north-east of Tasmania. The mixed Pallawah community that had been sent to Flinders Island spoke different languages and in some cases were long-time enemies. Because no-one was on his or her traditional land, power was up for grabs. Two literate youths, Walter George Arthur and Thomas Brune, were able to use their literacy to form a close association with Commandant George Augustus Robinson. In 30 Ibid., p. 278.


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so doing, they gained privileges that they would not otherwise have had at such a young age. Arthur and Brune acquired significant influence by writing a small newspaper in which they doled out criticism of their countrymen and exhorted their elders to be good Christians. No-one belittled the elders at Coranderrk Reserve in Victoria, where literacy did not destabilise the traditional land-based gerontocracy. The authorship role of William Barak and Simon Wonga was based on their seniority in the land-holding clan upon whose traditional land Coranderrk was established. Neither Barak nor Wonga had been taught to read and write, but because the reserve was located on their clan estate, their power remained largely in place. The male head of the host clan was considered to be the leader and spokesperson for the reserve or mission community. The people of Coranderrk did not limit themselves to writing by hand. Taking advantage of the press, they lobbied publicly for their rights and articulated their complaints in the public sphere. So determined was the Protection Board to de-authorise the Coranderrk residents’ letters and petitions that on at least one occasion it hired detectives to investigate whether their written protests were forged. A police detective was sent to the reserve to gather handwriting samples from suspected Aboriginal forgers. In the archives, these documents are labelled as exhibit ‘A’, ‘B’, and so on. After comparing these samples with the handwriting used in the body of the Coranderrk residents’ petitions, the Protection Board found to its embarrassment that the petitions had in fact been penned legitimately by Thomas Dunolly, and that they genuinely expressed the views of all the signatories. Aboriginal men were by no means the only ones to take up the pen in defence of their communities and families. Letters from Aboriginal Women of Victoria, 1867–1926 (2002) offers plentiful evidence that Aboriginal women wrote numerous letters both to family members and to government officials. Writing mainly for themselves and their families, rather than for larger community groups, women addressed colonial officials on a wide range of issues, including matters to do with children and family, land and housing, their right to personal freedom, the behaviour of mission and reserve managers, and their need of financial and material assistance. Like those of their menfolk, these women’s letters show how they viewed their own lives, and interpreted the broader political context within which they and their families were living. On some missions and reserves, girls received more schooling than boys, whose labour was needed for outside work. Nonetheless, scribes were almost invariably men. A significant exception is the petition penned by Betsy Banfield in October 1893, from William Barak and thirty other members of the Coranderrk Reserve community to Charles Officer, vice-chairman of the Protection Board.31 As in many other petitions, land was the issue. Why was a woman chosen to serve as scribe for Barak? Was it because her English was good and her handwriting very neat? Or because she was the 31 Australian Archives, Victorian Office, B 313/1, Item 221.


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daughter of one of Barak’s speakers, Taungurong leader Thomas Banfield, who had died earlier that year? Paradoxically, innovations in textual production may have maintained Indigenous traditions. The most educated, accomplished and prolific Indigenous woman writer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Bessie Flower Cameron, a member of the Meananger (Benang) people whose country is in the south of Western Australia. Born in 1851 near the town of Albany, she grew up at Annesfield, an Anglican residential school run by Anne Camfield.32 For such institutions, literate young men and women were a public relations asset: they showed taxpayers and mission supporters that their money was indeed ‘uplifting’ the Aboriginal race. In February 1868, several of Bessie Flower’s letters were published in the Church of England Newspaper in Western Australia, the editor’s aim being to refute recent criticism of the Annesfield Anglican mission in the local papers.33 Most Aboriginal literacy at the time was functional, rather than for pleasure or intellectual stimulus. Bessie Flower was highly educated and she enjoyed reading literature as well as ‘improving’ informational texts. Mrs Camfield noted that Bessie . . . was never without a book in her pocket by day or under her pillow at night. Her love of reading often brought her into scrapes, from reading at inconvenient times but it was improving to her as (though she liked to read stories as well as any girl) she is much interested by History, Travels and more serious works.34

Mrs Camfield obviously viewed reading as a good thing in general, but she endorsed the prevailing view that romantic fiction was a frivolous, morally suspect feminine genre that compared unfavourably with serious masculine non-fictional material. Bessie spent two years at a model school in Sydney, where she studied academic subjects such as English literature and language, arithmetic, history, geography, and scripture, while also developing her ladylike accomplishments with lessons in piano and singing. Returning to Albany in 1866, she became assistant teacher to Anne Camfield at Annesfield, and served as organist at the local Anglican church.35 As a young Aboriginal woman with a middle-class white education, her social standing was highly ambivalent and precarious. In 1867, Bessie and her younger sister, Ada, were among five young Nyoongar women who travelled to Ramahyuck Mission Station in south-eastern Victoria, where Christian Aboriginal women were urgently needed as wives for the young male Kurnai converts. She married Donald Cameron, and the young couple spent their leisure time writing 32 Biographical information about Bessie Flower Cameron is from Bain Attwood, ‘ “In the name of all my Coloured Brethren and Sisters”, a Biography of Bessie Cameron’, Hecate, XII.1–2 1986), pp. 9–53; Bain Attwood, The Making of the Aborigines (A&U, 1989), and Elizabeth Nelson, Sandra Smith and Patricia Grimshaw (eds), Letters from Aboriginal Women of Victoria, 1867–1926, History Department, University of Melbourne, 2002. 33 Rev. Brown, Editorial, ‘The Aborigines in Western Australia’, Church of England Newspaper, 1 February 1868, Bessie Flower, Letters, La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria, MS 12117. 34 Quoted in Attwood, ‘ “In the name of all my Coloured Brethren and Sisters” ’, p. 14. 35 Ibid..


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letters, reading newspapers and ‘self-improving’ books.36 Bessie’s authority derived from her writing skills, not her connection to relevant sites. Although a foreigner, she wrote to the newspapers in the name of the Aborigines of Ramahyuck Mission Station, and defended Chief Protector Hagenauer against public criticism.37 While anthropologist A. W. Howitt had been impressed with Bessie’s and Donald’s immersion in a culture of books and writing, the Rev. Murdoch MacDonald, visiting Ramahyuck three years later, in 1877, thought that Bessie’s ‘literally constant’ reading was too much of a good thing.38 The Rev. Hagenauer complained that, although ‘her superior education helps her wonderfully well, she was by no means as useful’ as she could have been. The Rev. MacDonald opined that ‘it would be better on the whole if she looked to her house more and read less’, a view voiced today by many men whose wives spend ‘too much time’ reading popular women’s romances.39 Bain Attwood has argued that Bessie Flower Cameron ‘internalised what amounted to European domination, and did not perceive it as destructive’, largely because she was taken from her family at a very young age.40 As she grew older, however, she suffered as a result of the racially based paternalism of white men such as the Rev. Hagenauer and Captain Page, who placed her needs second to those of her unfaithful Aboriginal husband. Her reading doubtless played a major role in structuring her social and moral awareness; in her writing we can see over time her transformation from a deferential, submissive girl, to an assertive, self-authorising woman who wanted to live outside the judgmental gaze of white male authority figures. Her writing not only reflected this change; it also facilitated it. Being able to express her views publicly, especially when she wrote on behalf of her ‘coloured brethren and sisters’, must have given her a tremendous sense of power and achievement and a feeling of belonging and social worth, even though her birthplace was far away.

Hidden cultures of literacy To varying degrees, tacitly or overtly, Aboriginal writing and reading in the colonial period were practised in accordance with residually traditional social and cultural values. Biraban, for example, despite his close, 15-year collaboration with missionary Lancelot Threlkeld, interpreted the Bible in the light of his own traditional spiritual beliefs. At Coranderrk Reserve from the 1870s to the 1920s, the Aboriginal community generated letters and petitions to satisfy bureaucratic requirements, but did so in accordance with traditional land-based and kin-based protocols. The rise of Aboriginal literacy by no means superseded their cultures of the voice. In colonial institutions, Ibid., p. 29. Bessie Cameron to R. Brough Smyth, AAV B 313/1, Item 163. Attwood, ‘ “In the name of all my Coloured Brethren and Sisters” ’, p. 33. Quoted in ibid., p. 33. See Janice Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature (University of North Carolina, 1984). 40 Attwood, ‘ “In the name of all my Coloured Brethren and Sisters” ’, p. 45.

36 37 38 39


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orality has always been a medium of fleeting, unverifiable transgression, a mode of speech-crime that leaves no material trace. On the Wybalenna Settlement on Flinders Island in the 1830s and 1840s, for example, Pallawah people’s breaches of verbal propriety were difficult to detect or document. Especially when congregating together, the people in Wybalenna knew they could break the verbal rules with minimal danger of getting caught and punished. In 1838, for example, at the marriage of Walter George Arthur and Mary Ann Cochrane, the Aboriginal guests ‘mispronounced’ the toast. The words ‘good health’ morphed into what sounded suspiciously like ‘go to hell’. This breach remained unpunished. In the crowd assembled at the wedding celebration, it would have been difficult to identify exactly who said what, and whether any improprieties were accidental or deliberate. Commandant Robinson had no option other than to turn a deaf ear, or explain away the subversive speech acts as mere Native errors.41

Words for writing What words do Indigenous Australians apply today to identify the activities and objects that in English are called ‘writing’? And what do these words suggest about their perceptions and attitudes towards books, paper, and the tools of reading and writing? The Burrarra and Gun-nartpa peoples of Arnhem Land use the word jurra to refer to footprints and tracks, as well as books and lines made on paper.42 For the Yidindji communities in Cairns and Yarrrabah, the closest thing to the phonocentric European concept of writing is the term gijaada gurrun, which means ‘language in marks’. Gurruna means ‘speech’ or the verb ‘to speak’. Yet Yidindji people also refer to writing with the word manyjam, which denotes scars, marks on a tree and cracks in the ground.43 The Yidindji term gijar gunda refers to a variety of activities, objects and inscriptions, such as making cicatrices during initiation ceremonies, or drawing, painting, and writing. A mark painted or drawn on a shield, a person, or on paper is called gijar gunda, as are the stripes on a policeman’s sleeve, or any marks that look like drawing; for example, the stripes on a snake, or a spider’s web, or a piece of paper with lines on it, including money. Gijar gunda can also refer to the object on which the marks are made. Gigar gunda means ‘to place, make a mark, sign a name’. The Yidindji word gurrun means language, story, news, or a piece of lawyer vine bent in a certain way and sent as a message stick. So the Yidindji people understand the European idea that alphabetic writing works as a phonographic script, and the European function of the written signature as an individual identifying mark, but they also associate writing with the 41 Robinson, Flinders Island Journal, 16 March, 1838, in N. J. B. Plomley (ed.), Weep in Silence, Blubber Head Press, 1987, p. 543. 42 K. Glasgow (comp.), Bururra-Gun-nartpa Dictionary, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Berrimah, NT, 1994. 43 R.M.W. Dixon (comp. and ed.), Words of Our Country: Stories, Place Names and Vocabulary in Yidini [Yidindji], the Aboriginal language of the Cairns–Yarrabah Region, UQP, 1991.


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ceremonial scarring that signifies a male’s transition to manhood. The Yidindji use the same term for message stick and writing. While adopting the conventional Western idea of the alphabet as a code for spoken language, they have also added other meanings and associations based on their environment, social practices and traditional graphic art traditions. In colonial times, Aboriginal people developed their own cultures of writing. Today they are pursuing new directions in the digital age.



Australian colonial poetry, 1788–1888 Claiming the future, restoring the past vivian smith Australia was imagined before it was settled, sung about in ballads before the first convicts arrived at Botany Bay, and celebrated by English poets before the books of its own poets started to appear. But the poems of this period, whether popular or literary, bear all the hallmarks of the long 18th century to which they owe their formation, their cult of genres, and their formalities of diction and decorum. There are two main currents in the poetry written in English in Australia since 1788 when Australia was first settled by the British as a penal colony. One is popular, based on the songs, ballads and sea shanties and simple narratives brought here by convicts and settlers. This is vernacular verse which develops in diverse ways as the century progresses. The other stream is learned and literary, drawing on the whole European cultural heritage, using language that is consciously heightened or refined. These streams are not strict parallels; many of the best Australian poets have tried to merge both in their writing. They have tried to link what is best in popular writing – its vigour, its common touch – with the sophisticated verbal inventiveness and daring, the intellectual exploration of other traditions. Much of the earliest Australian poetry is anonymous, popular and ephemeral: the song, the ballad, the skit and the lampoon predominate. The first poems published in book form were extended odes and narratives that expressed a sense of confidence in the progress of British civilisation and the future glory of Australia. The first writers found the landscape monotonous and unfriendly. There were challenges in a new climate, contacts with the Aboriginal inhabitants, the naming of the incredible flora and fauna – acacia and eucalyptus, echidna and platypus. The constructing of an Australian identity and consciousness was begun. The artistic transformation – the imaginative possession – of the country is a long and continuing process which starts with the first writing that appeared here. Early Australian literary poetry bears the indelible stamp of the highly cultivated amateur, and it presents us with a body of work as fascinating in its own way as the products of the first Australian painters. Until recently this early poetry tended to be dismissed or slighted for being derivative. However, literary texts can become interesting in new ways, and these foundation poems, for all their fixed and formalised language, are now taking on new significance.


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It is fitting, given the country’s history, that the first official Australian poet should have been a freed convict, Michael Massey Robinson. English-born and Oxfordeducated, he is remembered now for his odes written to be recited at royal celebrations (the birthdays of George III and Queen Charlotte, 4 June and 18 January) and military occasions. Robinson is often regarded as the poet laureate of Macquarie’s administration (1809–22), the celebrant of his attempts to bring the light of civilisation to the Great South Land. But when britannia’s Sons came forth to brave The dreary Perils of the length’ning wave; When her bold Barks, with swelling Sails unfurled, Trac’d these rude Coasts, and hailed a new-found World; Soon as their Footsteps press’d the yielding sand, A sun more genial brighten’d on the land: Commerce and Arts enrich’d the social Soil, Burst through the gloom and bade all Nature smile. Sydney Gazette, 8 June 1811

The spirit of James Thomson’s ‘Rule Britannia’ dominates many of these highly formal and sedate odes, as does the conviction that the British settlement will bring all the benefits of the Enlightenment. Barron Field, a friend of Wordsworth and Lamb, arrived in New South Wales in 1817 as a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, where he resided for eight years and claimed to be the first ‘Austral Harmonist’. His tiny volume First Fruits of Australian Poetry (Sydney, 1819) is still valued for its depiction of the colonial scene and its local fauna and flora (‘Botany Bay Flowers’) and its second edition (1823) for its celebration of Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks. Field is now best known for his poem ‘The Kangaroo’, an exuberant oddity that tries to say as much about the creation as it says about Australia. In its attempt to capture new subject matter (the kangaroo and the black swan) in an established literary form adapted from Milton and Marvell, as well as in its awareness of Australia as a land of contradictions, it sets a pattern for a large part of 19th-century Australian poetry which tries to link the old world and the new. In the curious ‘On reading the controversy between Lord Byron and Mr Bowles’, Field reflects the situation of many 19th-century writers who respond just as intensely to what is happening overseas as to what is around them; he also brings in one of those references to America which are so frequent in the earliest poetry written here. William Charles Wentworth’s Australasia, published in London in 1823, is one of the most authoritative of the early poems with its robust epic vision and its patriotic assertion of the progress of British civilisation. Constructed of rough-hewn couplets, this extended ode celebrates the development of a new Britannia in another world and is marked by a rugged individuality of touch. It has long been valued for the descriptions of an Aboriginal corroboree, its account of the fate of La P´erouse’s expedition, and its depiction of early Sydney and its surroundings. It seems to have


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inspired Thomas K. Hervey’s Australia (1824), written at Trinity College, Cambridge, and also celebrating ‘that spirit of enterprise which leads Great Britain to extend her researches and her arts through all parts of the earth’. There is no evidence that Hervey ever visited Australia, but his well-informed poem was already into its third edition by 1829. Hervey was convinced that Australasia was ‘destined to act a mighty part upon the theatre of the world’. His poem dwells on nature’s oddities – the emu, the black swan – and after celebrating the great explorers – Hartog, Dampier, Tasman, Cook – concludes with a vision of the future and the growth and development of Sydney and Hobart. It is a curiosity of considerable neoclassical charm. The 18th-century European mode of locating poems in specific genres is characteristic of early colonial poetry; there are epistles and odes and attempts at panoramic and epic visions. The descriptive, meditative poem derived from Goldsmith, Thomson and Cowper was the most frequent, as in the work of the Australian-born Charles Tompson, one of the most appealing of the early writers whose Wild Notes, from the Lyre of a Native Minstrel appeared in 1826 when he was only 20 years old. Like the 18th-century poets he imitated, Tompson aims at typical, moral generalisation, but there is a Goldsmithinspired delicacy of feeling and individuality of observation in his poem ‘Black Town’, with its reference to an early attempt to educate a group of Aborigines. Ill-fated hamlet! From each tottering shed, Thy sable inmates perhaps forever fled, (Poor restless wand’rers of the woody plain! The skies their covert – nature their domain) Seek, with the birds, the casual dole of heav’n, Pleas’d with their lot – content with what is given. Time was, and recent memr’y speaks it true, When round each little cot a garden grew, A field whose culture serv’d a two-fold part, Food and instruction in the rural art. The lordling tenant and his sable wife Were taught to prize the sweets of social life, And send their offspring, in the dawn of youth, To schools of learning and the paths of truth.

Tompson, one of the most sensitive and melancholy poets of his time, also affirms certainties and stabilities, and patriotically celebrates Britannia’s civilising and Christianising mission. Two other poets, John Dunmore Lang and William Woolls, belong to this phase. Lang’s Poems: Sacred and Secular was published in Sydney in 1873, by which time he had become a most important figure in the colony of New South Wales. This volume – an attractive example of colonial printing – carries the following information under the author’s name: ‘Minister of the Scots Church, Sydney; recently and for many years, one of the representatives of the city of Sydney, in the Parliament of


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N.S.Wales; hon Member of the African Institute of France; of the American Oriental Society; and of the Literary Institute of Olinda, in the Brazils’. It is especially interesting for the poetic sequence A Voyage to New South Wales, A Poem: Or Extracts from the Diary of an Officer in the East, written during the author’s first voyage to Australia in the years 1822 and 1823. It is an exceptionally buoyant work in ottava rima, unlike many of the other poems of the time which are encased in neoclassical couplets. Lang seems to have been much influenced by Byron, whose devil-may-care attitude he adopts throughout the sequence, a record of the voyage from England to Rio de Janeiro and across the great southern ocean to the coasts of Van Diemen’s Land and on to Port Jackson. Some sections of this poem, ‘Colonial Nomenclature’, which celebrates the use of Aboriginal place names, and his 1824 critique of Barron Field, have been anthologised, but the whole poem needs to be recovered to complete our enjoyment and understanding of early colonial poetry. Other poems in this volume, particularly the hymns, show the influence of Cowper; there are skilfully turned translations from Gellert and Burger as well as a translation of an Aboriginal song; there is one of the first attempts to write a national anthem, and poems about bushfires and birds – the cape pigeon and the albatross – and even a pleasant poem to his horse. Dunmore Lang brings a number of different notes to early Australian poetry, but because of his fame in other areas his achievement in verse has been somewhat overlooked. William Woolls’ The Voyage: A Moral Poem written during and descriptive of a Voyage from England to New South Wales (Sydney 1832) remains one of the less noted poems of its time. Divided into five cantos, it approaches New South Wales from Africa rather than South America; it lacks the dash and bravura of Lang’s voyage poem, but it describes the tropics, whales and sharks and flying fish and a mariner-victim of a shark’s voracity: ‘O! for a Hogarth to depict the scene: / Now all is dread, now all again serene’. Canto Five, which celebrates the art of navigation, contains its predictable dream vision of the future with the dissemination of art and science as ‘Albion’s sons spread o’er the plain’ and with Good men enforcing Gospel truths. Thus blest indeed, the happy coast Will ever see the light of day Till the dread trump will close the scene And the great globe itself dissolve away.

Woolls is determined to express the eternal truths of religion and the human lot. In Australia (1833) he continues belatedly in the steps of Wentworth, admitting that his six cantos are addressed ‘more immediately to the people of England’ than to those of New South Wales, but he confidently asserts the future greatness of Australia, and his commitment to the moral improvement of the colony and its inhabitants. In Canto Six he celebrates the development of a colonial verse tradition, including references to all


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the poets already mentioned as well as Henry Halloran. From the beginning poets are starting to take possession of the country. The 18th-century tradition of verse-making as a cultural accomplishment of the educated person is the background from which much early Australian poetry arises. Robinson, Field, Tompson, Wentworth, Lang and Woolls, whether native-born or born in England, were all well-schooled writers from comfortable backgrounds. Their highly talented and conservative poems, studded with Latin tags and classical references, and ripe with quotations from the great poets in the English canon, display their educational credentials and opportunities. They observe the literary decorum of a passing age, but they often strike an authentic note and signal contemporary attitudes and events. The change to a more centrally shaping sense of the poet’s calling came with Harpur and Kendall, Australian-born poets with a sense of vocation who wanted to live for poetry, so to speak, but were never able to live from it. With them the second phase of 19th-century Australian poetry begins.

Charles Harpur: ‘founder of the country’s poetic heritage’ Charles Harpur was one of the most underestimated of Australian 19th-century poets, and his work is still not adequately edited more than a century after his death. The son of Irish ex-convicts, Harpur was considered arrogant and abrasively self-assertive, his radical republicanism and fiercely independent spirit not designed to ingratiate him with the local conservative establishment. In 1845 he published Thoughts: a Series of Sonnets (the first sonnet sequence to appear in Australia). It is divided into two sections; one, of 17 items, deals with his poetic calling and ambitions; the other five – ‘Specimens of Love Sonnets’ – are concerned with his love for Mary Doyle, the woman he finally married. The Bushrangers, a play in five Acts and Other Poems (1853), contains some of his most enduring poems: ‘The Creek of the Four Graves’, ‘The Bush Fire’, ‘To the Comet of 1843’ and ‘The Dream by the Fountain’. Like most of the colonial poets, Harpur was well read, with knowledge of the work of Dryden, Milton, Marvell, Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley as well as of Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe. Although critical of many aspects of the colonial society he found himself in, he was a deeply patriotic poet with an abiding love of country. He always thought of himself as an Australian poet and responded as one to questions as varied as the war in Crimea, the Irish question and the developing new independence in various European countries. He was one of the most forceful of the long line of Australian poets who wanted to define ‘This Southern Land of Ours’: What would pygmean statesmen but Our new-world prospects blast, By chaining native enterprise To Europe’s pauper past.


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‘For we are neither English, nor Irish, nor Scotch – but Australians: and our career as a race should be full of boldness and invention, and as little imitative as possible.’1 Attitudes like these mark a new phase in Australian development and draw a line between his work and that of his predecessors. But Harpur also insisted, ‘though utterly a republican in my politics, speculatively, I yet believe, that it will be best for Australia to continue, during the present century (at the very least) a part of the British monarchy . . . Great Poets and Genuine lovers of poetry are always democratic’.2 A sense of individual responsibility for the country’s welfare and improvement inspired all his writing. Images of architecture and sculpture feature in Harpur’s poetry. He often composed on a grand scale, but he was also highly responsive to details of the weather – storms, clouds, rainbows, moonlight, starlight, dusk and dawn – as well as drought-stricken landscapes. For all his ruggedness, some of his most attractive poems are those of precise observation and sensuous and airy enjoyment, as in the sharply observed ‘A Midsummer Noon in the Australian Forest’, one of his best-known reflective pastorals, or in ‘A Rural Picture’, which remained for too long an unknown part of the Harpur oeuvre. All simple sights of rural life to me Are fresh or beautiful. Look down the stream, Where past the first broad shade a dappled cow Stoops her meek head over the grassy brink, And then, with rapid and strong gulphs, indraws The liquid joy: and though at length sufficed, Still over it she keeps her neck declined And breathes her herby breath upon the water, Ruffling the image of herself below. As there, with pendant head and dappled sides, It stands reversed: Herself and Shadow, – both Total expressions of an utter comfort.

Harpur was a wide-ranging, prolific poet who wrote in all the major poetic forms. He was determined to be, like Wordsworth and Shelley, a philosophical and intellectual poet as well as a dramatist. He said of his own work: ‘Poetry has never been a mere art with me but always the vehicle of earnest purpose. Nay, rather might I say, that it has always been the audible expression of the inmost impulses of my moral being, the very breath of my spiritual life.’3 In ‘The Dream by the Fountain’ he records how the Muse of the forest enjoined on him: Be then the Bard of thy Country! O rather, Should such be thy choice than a monarchy wide, Lo, ’tis the Land of the grave of thy father! ’Tis the cradle of Liberty! – Think, and decide. 1 Elizabeth Perkins (ed.), The Poetical Works of Charles Harpur, A&R, 1984, p. 506. 2 Michael Ackland (ed.), Charles Harpur: Selected Poetry and Prose, Penguin, 1986, pp. 22, 46. 3 Charles Harpur, ‘My Own Poetry’, in ibid., p. 33.


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Harpur is a serious political poet and satirist, ranging from pointed squibs and quatrains that attack restrictive ideas to a work like ‘The Temple of Infamy’ that ridicules his political enemies. His philosophical sequences and long poems display his strenuous intellectual reach. ‘The World and the Soul’ (originally ‘Geologia’, 1847) is a daring poem about the soul and its place in the scheme of things, where Harpur speculates on evolution and the development of man and the growth of art, music, poetry, religion and virtue. He celebrates the indestructible power of the soul to progress towards ‘Perfection’ through ‘Creation and advancement’ up to ‘the unfailing consciousness of God’. This strangely moving and impressive poem asserts his belief in spiritual evolution and the power of knowledge to lead man to final enlightenment. The religious and philosophical views are embedded in the currents of belief and thought of Harpur’s time, but the poem has a note of affirmation and conviction that lifts it above the level of the speculative versification of its period. Harpur’s sense of personal dedication and election is apparent in all he wrote. This is expressed directly in a poem like ‘The Dream by the Fountain’, indirectly in his narrative and landscape poems, which communicate a sense of the grandeur and glory of God to the awed spectator. Poems like ‘The Temple of Infamy’, and the short poems on literary themes in which he attacks rival styles and literary enemies and attempts to demolish restrictive ideas, have edge and relevance even today. Classical and biblical subjects and references give Harpur scope for his preoccupation with the sublime; they also give him the chance to inscribe himself into the large tradition of the European Romantics. Harpur’s nature, landscape and narrative poems, in which he tries to come to terms with the Australian environment, are still his most widely read. Many later writers have focused on the monotony of the Australian landscape, merging their sense of its social and cultural limitations with the sense of the repetitive sameness of the land. Harpur emphasises its picturesque and dramatic qualities, his verse enlivened by a sense of discovery and revelation. Working within the late 18th-century and early Romantic tradition of descriptive and landscape poems, his subjects and titles – ‘The Bush Fire’, ‘Dawn and Sunrise in the Snowy Mountains’, ‘A Coast View’ – echo those of many colonial paintings from Henry Gritten to Eugene von Gu´erard. There is the same sense of views, visions and vastness, the awe-inspiring spectacle, but Harpur has a unique way of closing in on detail: ‘A Coast View’, for instance, is a fine example of how he brings broad survey and close-up observation together. He has a sharp eye for rock formations and clouds, eagles and sea birds. His long poem ‘The Kangaroo Hunt’ contains some remarkably precise observations on the magpie and the sulphur-crested cockatoo. Harpur believed in the use of verse as a political instrument; he knew how to nurse a grudge and hug a resentment; and historians of colonial culture have paid attention to the part he played as a reformer in his society. He took his role as a public poet seriously, but his scope and ambition have never been accurately weighed. The Sorrows of Chatterton, or Genius Lost (1836–7) is contemporaneous with Alfred de Vigny’s play Chatterton (1835) and both are concerned with the trials of poetic genius in its attempt


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to remain undefeated by the world’s neglect and disregard. Chatterton was a key figure for the English Romantic poets – Shelley, Keats, Coleridge and Wordsworth – and the question of the poet’s role in society was a vexed one for the European poets of the time. The example of genius destroyed by a hostile and uncomprehending world had a particularly strong resonance for Harpur and Kendall in the remote antipodean colony. Among Harpur’s most ambitious poems are The Tower of the Dream, published in pamphlet form in 1865, and The Witch of Hebron. The Tower of the Dream, a blank-verse narrative with song interludes, recalls the atmosphere and trappings of a gothic novel with touches of Poe fantasy, and it is curiously effective as an early Romantic exploration of the world of dream and vision, sleep and music. Open to various allegorical interpretations, it can be seen, through its images of night and darkness, to show the forces of tyranny preventing the dreamer’s union with love and liberty, or the poet’s longing to be reunited with his anima. It can lend itself to Freudian and Jungian schematisations. It is part of the age-old power of the Eden theme in literature, the search for primal unity, to be able to provoke a whole range of resonances. The Witch of Hebron, which he boasted to Kendall was ‘as magnificent as an oriental palace and terrible as a thunderstorm’,was Harpur’s last major achievement, his attempt to round off his career with a poem of epic proportions.4 It is a powerful narrative of nearly 2000 lines of blank verse, drawing on the oriental moral tales so popular in the 18th century. The seven-part narrative tells of a mysterious beautiful woman possessed by an evil spirit. Rabbi Joseph, a wise doctor, exorcises the spirit that then tells the story of its various transformations. Caught in the struggle between good and evil, it has passed through various reincarnations in search of salvation. Like Faust, it is given new life in return for his soul. It comes under the influence of the evil spirit Sammael but is rescued by divine angels and becomes a lion and an eagle. Under the renewed influence of Sammael it inhabits the bodies of women and is finally reborn as the daughter of Rabbi Josephi’s friend Bin Baghal. As the woman dies, she begs the rabbi to pray for her. Classical and biblical subjects were as important to colonial as to European Romantics, and they gave Harpur, always an eclectic poet, the same opportunity to display his preoccupation with the sublime and the visionary as did his larger landscape poems. Australian readers have always rated Harpur’s landscape and nature poems more highly than the rest of his work because in them we see the process by which aspects of Australia were named and colonised and transformed. But no understanding of the colonial poets is complete without some knowledge of their works based on classical, biblical and oriental themes, which relate them directly to similar poems written in England and Europe at the same time. Equally significant are the poems in which he explores the inner realms of the human psyche. A neglected poem like ‘The Drowned, 4 Charles Harpur to Henry Kendall, Euroma, 19 January 1867, in ibid., p. 166.


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Alive’, where he tries to fathom the last moments of a dying man, add another dimension to colonial poetry.

Henry Kendall: ‘Native Australian Poet’ Henry Kendall, the most obviously lyrical of the major colonial poets, was a writer of exceptional facility and virtuosity. His work fell into partial eclipse until the latter half of the 20th century, when the slow revival of interest in colonial culture started to gather momentum. Compared with Harpur’s craggy and austere will, Kendall can at times seem glibly fluent, but he remains by any reasonable criterion an outstanding poet. His first volume Poems and Songs (1862), published when he was 23, is a work of extraordinary precocity and technical fluency. In it he declares his ambition to be a ‘Native Australian Poet’, and from the first his poetry reflects his local environment, especially the landscapes of the coast south of Sydney, with its creeks and waterfalls, ferns and moss, its lyre-birds and native trees, its forests and mountains, seen through a veil of feeling and longing. Kendall is not a clear objective observer like Harpur: he is more impressionistic and weaves a more cunningly emotional music, centred on effects of light and an atmospheric play of green and gold. But Kendall was as patriotic as Harpur and gave added voice to the aspirations towards nationhood of his time. He had a strong feeling for particular places and loved using local names in the titles of his poems. He records significant happenings in the history of the country, especially the exploits of the explorers, but from the beginning his idealising tendencies dominate. In his personal poems he expresses a longing for Aidenn (Eden) – the possibility of a perfect life – and a yearning for an ideal love relationship. A pervasive melancholy sets the emotional tone and a recognition of his own shortcomings forms the subject matter of some of the most poignant of his personal lyrics. His sense of the ideal was so acute that it seemed humanly unattainable. Kendall was haunted by a vision of a world beyond this world, a virgin world of ‘unknown shores’, ‘undiscovered skies’ and ‘cliffs and coast by man untrodden’, ‘the land where man hath never been, the country where ethereal glory shines’. Images of yet unrevealed parts of Australia suggest a space where the ideal might be recovered. In his early poems we see him Yearning for a bliss unworldly, yearning for a brighter change, Yearning for the mystic Aidenn, built beyond this mountain range.

The longing is often incarnate in a lost love and linked to a geographical image ‘beyond this mountain range’. Kendall’s attempt to present the life of the Aborigines, even to incorporate some of their words in his laments and death songs – ‘ Kooroora’, ‘Urara’ and ‘Ulmarra’ – is an important aspect of his early poetry, probably influenced by Harpur’s example in ‘An Aboriginal Mother’s Lament’. The representation of the Aboriginal and the


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attempt to understand Aboriginal life that one finds in poems like Eliza Dunlop’s ‘The Aboriginal Mother’ and Honora Frances Kelly’s ‘King Jimmy’ is a strong vein running through colonial poetry, but there are shifts of tone as the century progresses. Kendall preserved ambiguously comic exercises like ‘Black Lizzie’ (1877), ‘Black Kate’ (1880) and ‘Peter the Piccaninny’ (1880), and there is a coarsening when we come to some of James Brunton Stephens’ pieces which point to shifting attitudes. By 1898 A. Patchett Martin was declaring: ‘you cannot write epics on the Australian blacks: you might as well compose a sonata on a monkey’5 – a sideswipe at George Gordon McCrae. Leaves from Australian Forests (1869) shows Kendall coming into his full range and power as a poet, though the years since his first book were a time of personal hardship. Although he was supported by a group of friends and had a strong sense of belonging to a literary milieu – he was a well-read and highly competent critic – his books did not sell well or provide him with an income. He had family and money troubles, and in 1869, six months before his book was published, he moved to Melbourne, at that time the literary centre of Australia, where he thought his prospects would be better. It proved an unwise decision. Leaves from Australian Forests includes nature and landscape poems, love poems, commemorative verses, and those memorial poems which are such an important contribution to the elegy tradition in Australian poetry. There are narratives with Australian subject matter, and others based on biblical and classical themes: ‘A Death in the Bush’ followed by ‘The Voyage of Telegonus’. The colonial painter Robert Dowling saw no discrepancy between painting one large canvas of a ‘Group of Natives of Tasmania’ and another of a ‘Sheikh and his son entering Cairo on their return from a pilgrimage to Mecca’, and there was no sense of discrepancy in Kendall who drew on the life and history of the world around him as well as the whole range of his European inheritance. Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Rossetti and Swinburne explored classical and biblical subject matter, and it was natural to Kendall to work in this area. Leaves from Australian Forests features some of Kendall’s most achieved lyrics – ‘Moss on a Wall’, ‘Araluen’, and ‘Arakoon’, poems of dreams, nostalgia, loss, and of moments of recovered peace and wholeness in a landscape where the setting heals and restores. It also contains ‘Bell Birds’ and ‘September in Australia’, the two lyrics by which Kendall was best known. Both are musicalised idealisations of real places and things and show Kendall moving in the same direction as a number of European and English poets (Verlaine and Swinburne, for example) who were exploring the possibilities of the extreme musicalisation of verse: By channels of coolness the echoes are calling, And down the dim gorges I hear the creek falling; It lives in the mountain, where moss and the sedges Touch with their beauty the banks and the ledges; 5 A. Patchett Martin, The Beginnings of an Australian Literature, Henry Sotheran & Co., 1898, p. 30.


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Through brakes of the cedar and sycamore bowers Struggles the light that is love to the flowers. And, softer than slumber, and sweeter than singing, The notes of the bell-birds are running and ringing.

Kendall wants to evoke moods and feelings as well as things remembered, but he lacks the accuracy of observation that can capture an intangible state. An example of how sound can dominate over sense is the curious line in ‘September in Australia’: ‘wild wings with the halo of hyaline hours’, where the alliteration seems to be intended to express a sense of a halcyon moment, but fails to do so because no field of reference for the sound pattern is set up in the lines. Although Kendall’s reputation rested for many years on his lyrics, the four main narrative poems in Leaves from Australian Forests show the range and variety of his talent. ‘The Voyage of Telegonus’, ‘King Saul at Gilboa’, ‘A Death in the Bush’ and ‘The Glen of Arrawatta’ have been increasingly admired since A. D. Hope’s 1973 reassessment. Hope wrote of ‘King Saul at Gilboa’, ‘what is astonishing about the poem is the tragic force of its language, and the tense, driving energy of its verse’. Writing in heroic couplets, Kendall is able to suggest the rise and fall, the ebb and flow of the energies involved in battle, and the whole has a controlled emotional logic that makes it one of his finest poems. The need to reinterpret an old story, yet to keep close to fact, gives his narratives a crispness of line that makes them structurally more compact than some of the lyrics with their often unpruned exuberance. Critics have recently speculated on an autobiographical, psycho-sexual subtext in these poems, but they all show affiliations with other poets: ‘Saul at Gilboa’ to Tennyson’s ‘The Passing of Arthur’; ‘The Voyage of Telegonus’ to Matthew Arnold’s ‘Sohrab and Rustum’; Rossetti wrote a ‘Lilith’, Arnold a ‘Merope’. ‘Ogyges’, Kendall himself remarked, was ‘after the manner of Tennyson’s “Tithonus” and Horne’s “Orion” ’,6 while the pervasive influence of the Wordsworth of ‘Michael’ can be sensed in settler narratives like ‘The Glen of Arrawatta’ and ‘A Death in the Bush’. Whatever the personal elements, one cannot overlook the seriousness and scope of Kendall’s literary ambitions here. If he was not exactly competing with his mentors, he was asking to be compared with poets overseas who had dealt with similar material. Kendall’s Australian narratives owe much to Harpur’s poems on the early days, particularly ‘The Creek of the Four Graves’. They in turn influenced other attempts to depict the pioneering days and to give poetic shape to the history of the country. Songs from the Mountains (1880) contains some of Kendall’s finest poems and several new points of departure. Kendall had a high sense of the poet’s calling, but in some of his satires, and in poems like ‘Jim the Splitter’ and ‘Bill the Bullock Driver’, he espouses the more openly sardonic vernacular approaches of the time. The poems written in ‘The Shadow of 1872’ – ‘The Voice in the Wild Oak’, ‘Narrara Creek’, ‘Mooni’ – as 6 T. T. Reed (ed.), The Poetical Works of Henry Kendall, Libraries Board of South Australia, 1966, p. 103.


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well as ‘Araluen’ and ‘On a Street’ are marked by the conflicts and tragedies of his own life; all have curious touches of pathos, and a poignant distinction. Two of the most important poems in the book are ‘To a Mountain’, the opening poem, in which he addresses the sources of his poetic inspiration; and ‘The Sydney International Exhibition’ (1879), originally entitled ‘Australia’, one of the long line of poems to bear that title. ‘The Sydney International Exhibition’ recalls the aspirations of Wentworth’s Australasia (1823) and with its admiration for the discovery and settlement of the country looks forward to the series of so-called ‘voyager poems’ of the late 1930s and 1940s that start with Kenneth Slessor and Robert FitzGerald. In an opening address to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, Kendall claims What though the face of thy fair heaven beams Still only on the crystal Grecian streams – What though a sky of new, strange beauty shines Where no white Dryad sings within the pines: Here is a land whose large, imperial grace Must tempt thee, goddess, in thine holy place! . . . And shall Australia, framed and set in sea, August with glory, wait in vain for thee?

Australian colonial poetry is haunted by a phantom epic on the subject of the discovery of the Great South Land and the construction of ‘Australia’. A number of poets contributed reports and sightings – imperial and national – but it remained unwritten as a single concerted work. Kendall’s ‘Australia’ gives a better outline than most of the shape it could have taken. It celebrates in forceful couplets Australia’s past, its natural beauty and gradual discovery, from the first explorers to the arrival of Captain Cook in ‘the bay of flowers’ making way for the later appearance of Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet. It sketches in the development of Sydney itself, ‘the shining city of a hundred spires’, and foresees the future of the nation, posing a question that continues to haunt Australian poetry: Where are the woods that, ninety summers back, Stood hoar with ages by the water track? Where are the valleys of the flashing wing, The dim green margins, and the glimmering spring? Where now the warrior of the forest race, His glaring war-paint, and his fearless face? The banks of April, and the groves of bird, The glades of silence, and the pools unstirred?

Kendall’s poem celebrates the benefits of colonial expansion – the carving of a city out of the wilderness – and proudly proclaims the qualities that have gone into the development of the nation:


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The human hands of strong, heroic men Broke down the mountain, filled the gaping glen, Ran streets through swamp, built banks against the foam And bent the arch and raised the lordly dome.

The various styles found in Kendall’s poetry reflect his cultural situation. A colonial poet, he celebrated his developing nation in the authoritative impersonal tones and moulds of Augustan public poetry, which survived here long after they had fallen out of fashion in England. His personal sorrows and regrets were voiced in plangent lyrics that draw on Victorian Romantic traditions, including parlour songs. Kendall himself believed that his descriptive nature poetry was his best. He wrote to J. Brunton Stephens on 5 June 1880, ‘I was born in the forests and the mountains were my sponsors. Hence I am saturated with the peculiar spirit of Australian scenery.’7 Kendall’s ‘To a Mountain’ is often read as an assessment of his whole poetic career. It praises the mountain landscape, the rivers, the green and gold of foliage and light and it contrasts the endurance and spiritual force of the mountain with his own fraught and unstable world: . . . These are the broken words Of blind occasions, when the World has come Between me and my Dream. No song is here Of mighty compass; for my singing robes I’ve worn in stolen moments. All my days Have been the days of a laborious life, And ever on my struggling soul has burned The fierce heat of this hurried sphere. But thou, To whose fair majesty I dedicate My book of rhymes – thou hast the perfect rest Which makes the heaven of the highest gods!

Kendall frequently lamented ‘the lot austere / that waits upon the writer here’, but whatever the difficulties of his life, his poetry gives a strong sense of context, of being embedded in the life and society of his time. Like Harpur’s aspiration to be ‘the founder of the country’s poetic heritage’, Kendall’s to be recognised as a ‘Native Australian Poet’ was fulfilled.

Adam Lindsay Gordon: ‘gentleman in exile and a national school of Australian poetry’ Adam Lindsay Gordon landed in Adelaide at the age of 20 and, after his death, became the most famous and popular poet of his time. He is the only Australian to be given 7 Leonie Kramer and A. D. Hope (eds), Henry Kendall, Sun Books, 1973, p. xvii.


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a place in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey – as the poet of Australia – and the only Australian included in the Oxford Standard Authors series. His Anglo-Australian background gave him a wider appeal than that available to either Harpur or Kendall, and he was long thought to epitomise the colonial experience. Gordon’s directness and sense of purposeful energy, his image as the bushman who was a gentleman’s son, devoted to the classics and the sporting life in a country where horsemanship was appreciated, found the popular recognition which eluded Harpur and Kendall. Gordon had an uncommon knack for catching the mood of the moment. Even his once notorious description of Australia as a ‘land where bright blossoms are scentless, / And songless bright birds’ captures the sense of difference and estrangement felt by many newcomers. His marvellous image of the knotted and weirdly patterned trunks of the eucalypt – which he compares with Egyptian obelisks, insect-marked in a way that suggests hieroglyphs – shows an extraordinary individuality of response, inaugurating a vein of almost surrealist observation later poets exploited. Poems like ‘An Exile’s Farewell’ and ‘Early Adieux’ gave authority to the notion that Australian colonial poetry was ‘a poetry of exiles’ but Gordon also popularised images that have become Australian icons. He has a fine Byronic sense of the surf and swimming; he is the laureate of the wattle as well as of the horse. No wonder Marcus Clarke saw in his work ‘something very like the beginnings of a national school of Australian poetry’.8 Gordon’s work opens still unexplored spaces in colonial poetics. He is a more varied poet than is usually recognised. His first published book, The Feud (1864), written to match a set of engravings, has a consistently strong narrative line and illustrates how important Gordon’s Scottish heritage was to him. He was able to use the tradition of ballad poetry – through the border ballads to Macaulay, Scott, Southey and Campbell – to forge new links with the emerging Australian bush ballad tradition. But for all his love of the life of action and adventure, Gordon was a literary poet, fond of the classical writers and Latin tags: his work appealed to a learned audience as well as to a wide one. Ashtaroth (1867) for example – his attempt to revive the Faust theme – shows the influence of the gothic novel in colonial Australia. Much in Gordon anticipates Paterson and the whole range of Australian balladists, but there is a sense of melancholy and pessimistic self-reproach in poems like ‘Wormwood and Nightshade’ and ‘Quare Fastisgasti’ that is uniquely his own. Gordon always referred to his poems as ‘ballads’ and ‘rhymes’, suggesting verse that is direct and down to earth, but that is only part of the story. Sea Spray and Smoke Drift (1867) contains one of Gordon’s most characteristic poems, ‘Ye Wearie Wayfarer’, which begins:

8 Marcus Clarke, ‘Preface’ to Adam Lindsay Gordon, Poems, Robert A. Thompson & Co., 1898, p. ix.


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Lightly the breath of the spring wind blows, Though laden with faint perfume. ’Tis the fragrance rare that the bushman knows, The scent of the wattle bloom.

This easy evocation of a typical Australian scene – rider resting under tree, horse rolling on the ground – depicts a time, a place, a mood familiar to all his readers; but the whole poem is saturated with memories of England and the times of his youth. The linking of two sites and times together in a relaxed, conversational way was the great source of Gordon’s appeal. We cannot hope to understand the colonial experience as a whole without Gordon’s poetry: its salutary common sense, its stoic fatalism. People wanted Gordon’s expressions of practical wisdom; his emphasis on fortitude spoke to their needs; and his responses to the Australian landscape touched a common chord. Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes (1870), published the day before Gordon shot himself, features the poems by which he is best known, ‘The Sick Stockrider’, ‘How We Beat the Favourite’, ‘A Dedication’, ‘From the Wreck’, ‘The Romance of Britomarte’, ‘Wolf and Hound’ and ‘The Rhyme of Joyous Garde’. ‘The Sick Stock Rider’, the most famous of them all, is an elegy for the vanishing of the whole Anglo-Australian phase. The subject had already appeared in verse from the 1840s, but Gordon’s poem with its ‘dying fall’, its reminiscing note and its celebration of a shared past has given it classic status. Its roll call of names and its ubi sunt theme suggest some of the possibilities and limitations of colonial life and its rhythms, the acceptance of, and resignation to, the inevitable. The poem achieved its immense popularity by touching the great commonplaces of human thought and feeling. Barcroft Boake wrote to his father in 1889: ‘there is not a bushman or a drover who does not know a verse or two of “How we Beat the Favorite” or “The Sick Stockrider” . . . Gordon is the favourite – I may say only – poet of the back blocker.’9 Gordon’s reputation has waxed and waned over the years with the fluctuations of interest in colonial culture; critics are now finding more and more biographical subtexts in his work as they explore his melancholy and his daemonic and reckless selfdestructiveness. Harpur and Kendall wanted to write themselves into the European tradition, while asserting their place as Australian poets. Gordon simply did so without question or struggle. His poetry like theirs carries a fair amount of high Victorian cultural luggage and draws on Arthurian legends, the Faust theme, Spanish bullfighting, the femme fatale, military exploits and the war in the Crimea. ‘The Sick Stockrider’ sums up his response to the colonial experience he knew so well. All the major colonial poets had a profound impact on the poetry of their time: Harpur and Kendall through their depiction and transformation of the landscape; Gordon gave the bush ballad its authority and status. 9 Barcroft Boake, Where the Dead Men Lie and Other Poems, A&R, 1913, p. 200.


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Women poets, 1826–1888 Women wrote prolifically in the colonies and were responsible for some of the best and most enduring poems in the archive.10 Among the early writers, Mary Leman Grimstone, who arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1826, Mary Bailey and Eliza Dunlop remain for the most part uncollected; Fidelia Hill has been republished recently in Adelaide. Women poets of the next generation – Caroline Carleton, Caroline Leakey, Ada Cambridge, Emily Manning (Australie), Mary Hannay Foott and Catherine Martin – added to the palette of colonial verse. Leakey’s nostalgic ‘English Wild Flowers’ expresses the longing for Home of the woman in exile; Emma Anderson’s ‘Evening’, a premonition of her early death. Moods of depression and states of isolation, the sense of being in unfamiliar and uncongenial surroundings, are particularly well caught by such poets. Mary Hannay Foott’s ‘Where the Pelican Builds’ brought a new inwardness to the more robust bush song and ballad tradition, suggesting the ghostly presences of the European ballad. Carleton, on the other hand, whose national ‘Song of Australia’ (1867) was one of the most popular poems of the time, focused, like her male counterparts, on public issues rather than the private self. Manning and Cambridge reflect the crisis of faith – the issues of doubt and belief – which marked Victorian poetry: Manning in a dissatisfaction with the human lot, Cambridge in relation to the position of women in marriage and questions of female sexuality. Manning, who had a strong social conscience, was preoccupied with dualities, whether between the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the healthy and the maimed, the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Her few nature and landscape poems, which respond sensitively to the Australian scene, are among the finest that the century produced. The beautifully sustained ‘From the Clyde to Braidwood’ strikes a freshly personal note while still using the recurring point of comparison between the old world and the new. The richly detailed ‘The Weatherboard Fall’ is an impressive meditation on the role of art in the scheme of things. Cambridge and Martin, now better known for their novels, made significant contributions to 19th-century poetry. Martin’s long narrative poem, The Explorers (1874), came close to being the epic the time was seeking. Where earlier attempts look to the 18th century and its values, Martin’s poem belongs to Victorian poetry with Tennyson as a guiding presence. A modern mix in rhyming couplets, it is divided into five parts, centred on the story of Burke and Wills and the failure of their 1860–1 expedition to cross the continent from south to north. This event also fired Kendall (‘The Fate of the Explorers’ and ‘Christmas Creek’), R. H. Horne (‘The Explorers’), Gordon (‘Gone’), Emma Frances Anderson (‘Thoughts Suggested by the Fate of Mr Burke and his companion, Australian Explorers, who died in the bush’) and Margaret Thomas (‘Death in the Bush’). 10 Patricia Clarke, Pen Portraits: women writers and journalists in nineteenth century Australia, A&U, 1988, gives a detailed survey of the field.


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For a while it looked as if the theme of doomed exploration would supersede that of the discovery of the Great South Land and the celebration of the triumphs of British and colonial enterprise. The image of Australia Felix was starting to waver. Martin’s main focus is on the course of the expedition and the death of the explorers; a final dream-vision celebrates the meaning of exploration and its significance for the future of Australia, free of want and ‘the evils of the old world’ – a recurrent note in Australian verse. It is a finely structured poem, with a skilful management of tone and mood, the landscape details acutely observed. Cambridge’s outspoken Unspoken Thoughts, published anonymously in 1887, spoke of the woe that is in marriage. She later withdrew the volume from circulation for reasons now impossible to determine. Cambridge had a clear awareness of the position of women in the society of her time as well as of social injustice and inequalities. Like many Victorians she suffered a loss of faith, and early critics perceptively compared her with Arnold, Clough and Tennyson. As a clergyman’s wife, she was particularly aware of the way habit and rigid convention can deaden spiritual spontaneity. Her book is a striking assertion of independence. Australian colonial literary production had an extraordinary density and intensity, given the population at the time. Every colony has its own separate history of publishing and literary activity. Nevertheless there was always a sense of metropolitan culture and civilised values associated with London, the headquarters where the reputations were made and the rewards and honours found. London – England – remained significant reference points until decades after World War II, and the need for overseas recognition was an important element in the development and shaping of most Australian writers. The editor of Harpur’s posthumous Poems (1883) stated in his preface: ‘the editor of these poems brings them to the press with the conviction that they deserve the best attention of the literary public of Australia, and with the hope that they may earn – what their author always coveted – some sympathetic recognition from the sons of song in England.’11

Colonial subject matter and poetic forms During the whole colonial period the never-ending process of assimilating the landscape, of describing it and naming new places, animals and plants and capturing them in verse continues, as does the recording of local historical and political events. One can trace the appearance in colonial poetry of the first black swan, the first branch of wattle, the first kangaroo, the first lyrebird. The Poets’ Discovery: Nineteenth-Century Australia in 11 Charles Harpur, Poems, ed. H. M. Martin, George Robertson, 1883, p xiii. This volume has an elegantly designed opening page with a message from Mary Harpur, the poet’s wife: ‘This book, the work of one of the earliest of our national poets is dedicated to the Australian People in the belief that, while it has a special claim to their regard, it will be found not unworthy to take a place in the literature of every English-speaking community.’


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Verse (1990) brings a huge amount of colonial verse production into focus. The topics of its 200 poems, some by writers of modest ability, include Aborigines, absence, bush deaths, bushrangers, Chinese, convicts, drought, droving, exile, explorers, gold mining, gum trees, horses, kangaroos, pubs, poets and alcohol, rivers and streams, sheep, sport, squatters, suicide, war, wilderness and women – add cemeteries and gaols to the list and we have the staple subject-matter of Australian colonial verse, encapsulating large swathes of its history. Colonial poets were also consistently responsive to major political and historical happenings in other countries – Italy, the Crimea, Poland, New Zealand, the United States of America.12 Harpur, for instance, has a sonnet ‘On the Easter Illumination of St Peter’s at Rome’ (1850); Henry Halloran wrote a memorial tribute on the death of his Royal Highness Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany; and Mary Hannay Foott addressed poems to Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Napoleon III, William II and General Gordon. Australia never lost its sense of connectedness to Europe and the rest of the world. Even writers like Harpur and Kendall saw Australia as part of European history.

Translation and satire Another manifestation of the sense of connection to Europe is the large body of translation that forms a staple ingredient of colonial poetic production. One of the most sustained works was the version (1854) by the explorer Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell of the great Portuguese epic The Lusiads by Camoens (1572), a work of great significance for its period. Harpur has passages from Homer; Gordon was familiar with the Greek and Roman classics and also translated from the French and Spanish. Clarke, Mary Bailey, Henry Halloran and many other colonial writers were adept translators of classical verse. It is striking how frequently poets were translated in colonial times. Catherine Martin produced substantial versions from the German of Chamisso, Herder, Uhland, Heine, Goethe and Schiller. Her volume The Explorers also contains a translation of Act 1 of Racine’s Ph`edre. Lang and Foott made skilful translations from German poets. There were various attempts across the different decades to present versions of Aboriginal laments and songs. Both Lang and Manning wrote a number of hymns, perhaps following the example of William Cowper and his imitators, and there was a firm tradition of hymn writing at the time, best seen in the work of Cambridge. A clear line of satire runs through Australian colonial writing, from the anonymous pipes that flourished in the first years of the settlement in New South Wales, through Wentworth, to the vigorous political satires of the 1830s and 1840s; from The Van Diemen’s Land Warriors (1827) by Pindar Juvenal, the first separate volume of verse published in Tasmania, to Henry Lingham’s observations on social life and culture, 12 See subject index of Richard Jordan and Peter Pierce (eds), The Poets’ Discovery: Nineteenth-Century Australia in Verse, MUP, 1990.


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Juvenal in Melbourne (1892). These poems have their merits, as well as documentary and historical interest, like the more ambitious and vitriolic satires of Harpur and Kendall, William Forster and Maxwell Miller that are so deeply embedded in the literary and political issues and controversies of their time. Political questions involving the constitution, land reform, transportation, immigration – particularly at the time of the gold rushes with the influx of the Chinese – and the developing republican debate fuelled much of the argumentative and topical verse of the time.13 If the satirical viewpoint implies a condemnation of an existing state of affairs and a vision of another order of things that contrasts with the one under review, then some of the sharpest and freshest colonial satires are found in the convict ballads with their affirmation of the larrikin spirit – in Frank the Poet’s ‘A Convict’s Tour to Hell’ (1839), for example – in some of the bush ballads, and even in some of the light verse of poets like Patchett Martin and Victor Daley, who also wrote as Creeve Roe. Humorous verse of the late 1870s and 80s – like Kendall’s character sketches and Brunton Stephens’ ‘My Chinee Cook’, ‘My Other Chinee Cook’ and ‘Quart Pot Creek’ – predate a style of writing that becomes extremely popular in the Bulletin of the 1890s – patronising, affectionate, at once self-deprecating and self-assertive, with all the complications and ambiguities that caricature and cartoon entail. Some of these poems can seem arch to modern tastes, but they also illustrate the uneasy relationship between inherited European culture and its relevance to available local subject matter. Whether lyrics, squibs, satires or extended narratives, Australian colonial verse draws on the European cultural heritage in its depiction of local experience and knowledge. On the whole, colonial writers interpret Australian reality through the English, American and European authors of their time. There is some Victorian moralising in the literary poetry; newspaper verse which pinpoints immediate events and topics is often sharper and crisper. The best poems are immediate and unpretentious, part of the attempt to forge an Australian identity and to find and define some sense of personal and national stability. There are many writers and many voices, but Australian colonial poetry – apart from the major figures – is not poetry of great diversity. There is a certain homogeneity of style and forms, though the level of verse craft and technical surefootedness is always impressive. As Brian Elliott points out in his pioneering study The Landscape of Australian Poetry (1967), Australian colonial poetry displays no exciting formal pluralism.14 Given the state of Australian society at the time, one would not expect to find any of the revolutionary movements or shifts in taste that occur in 19th-century French poetry, for instance, none of the eccentric poets that one finds in Victorian, or American, poetry – though Kendall and O’Dowd were familiar with the

13 For more on this see Brian Elliott and Adrian Mitchell (eds), Bards in the Wilderness: Australian Colonial Poetry to 1920, Nelson, 1970, pp. xxiii–xxiv and passim; and Vincent O’Sullivan, The Unsparing Scourge: Australian Satirical Texts, 1845–1860, Centre for Studies in Australian Literature, University of Western Australia, 1988. 14 See the chapter ‘A Ramage of Small Voices’ in Brian Elliot, The Landscape of Australian Poetry, F. W. Cheshire, 1967, pp. 120–34.


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work of Walt Whitman. There were no experiments with free verse or prose poetry before the advent of modernism.

First maps of Australian verse By 1880 the major exploration of Australia had been completed, the Bulletin founded. Kendall’s death in 1882 marked the close of an era. To mark the centenary of 1888 it was time to start drawing up a map of Australian poetic achievement. Douglas Sladen, the writer and historian who was briefly in Australia, brought out three stocktaking anthologies: Australian Poets, 1788–1888, dedicated to Edmund Gosse, one of the leading men of letters in England, Australian Ballads and Rhymes and A Century of Australian Song. Sladen saw Australia as the country of the future and he wanted to showcase the poetry of the Australian colonies for readers in the Old Country – ‘To lay before the English public A Selection of Poems inspired by Life and Scenery in Australia’. These were prescient anthologies, knowledgeable and thorough, intended to expand the poets’ audience, and they set a secure foundation for the study of 19th-century Australian poetry. Sladen highlighted the best known poets of the time and focused on signature poems: ‘The Creek of the Four Graves’, ‘A Storm in the Mountains’, ‘Bell Birds’, ‘September in Australia’, ‘To a Mountain’, ‘From the Clyde to Braidwood’, ‘The Sick Stockrider’; he included humorous poems by Brunton Stephens, one of the laureates of the dominion of Australia and, later, of Federation. If Sladen wanted to exhibit present achievement he also wanted to feature the past. He included important early texts by George Barrington, Barron Field, William Charles Wentworth; a valuable appendix of Bush Songs which pointed the way to Banjo Paterson’s landmark Old Bush Songs (1905); the 1862 Athenaeum review of Kendall’s manuscript Poems and a long scholarly note on Barron Field’s First Fruits of Australian Poetry. He included numerous women writers – Emma Anderson, Caroline Leakey, Mary Hannay Foott – either in the body of the anthology or in the long historical survey that introduces it, giving a strong sense of the continuing tradition of Australian colonial verse. It is a remarkable collection for its time, and it has never been fully appreciated. By the end of the 1880s Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson and Christopher Brennan were emerging. With them Australian poetry moves in new directions, as the colonies moved towards federation, but their work also maintains continuities with the poetry that preceded them.



No place for a book? Fiction in Australia to 1890 tanya dalziell If the film The Proposition (2005) is anything to go by, 19th-century Australia was, at first glance, no place for a book. Set in a Queensland frontier town in the 1880s, the film opens with a dramatic shoot-out, establishing the idea that ‘the outback’ was brutal and bloody. Later, books make brief and telling appearances. We see blurred glimpses of them on the shelves of an English-style homestead, the home of Captain Maurice Stanley, who repeatedly proclaims his determination to civilise the land and its inhabitants. Stanley’s wife Martha is shown alone, holding a volume and framed against a beautiful, desolate landscape, a shot that registers a sense of the escape and other-worldliness books might offer a woman marooned in this harsh, masculine environment. Books and reading are not only aligned in the film with the feminine, the melancholic and the domestic, however. The Irish outlaw Arthur Burns quotes poetry and is pictured in his cave-refuge with numerous books, making an interesting parallel with the Stanleys’ homestead that complicates differentiations between law-enforcer and criminal. It also draws attention to the recruitment of literature, both in terms of thematic content and the cultural value it has been variously assigned, to assist in the fixity of social distinctions, especially in colonial contexts where they often seem ill-assured. And we are left to wonder whether the heavy books that lie open and ordered before Stanley on his study desk, as he casually consents to the murders of captured Aboriginal men, authorise such actions in legal terms, scientific theory or imaginative narrative, and if books to follow might record at all these lives soon-to-be extinguished.1 Archival photographs of white colonials and Aborigines accompany the opening and closing credits of The Proposition, lending it an air of historical authenticity and hinting that it is the visual realm of photography and film that is best suited to tell the truth about 19th-century Australia – of racism, of English–Irish tension, of frontier life for both women and men – in the face of the potential, and subsequently demonstrated, complicity of books in colonial projects.2 1 John Hillcoat, dir. The Proposition, Surefire Film 3 Production, 2005. An overview of representations of the Irish in colonial Australia appears in Fritz Clemens, ‘Language, Change and Identity: The Irish in NineteenthCentury Australia’, in Tadhg Foley and Fiona Bateman (eds), Irish Australian Studies: Papers Delivered at the Ninth Irish-Australia Conference, Galway, April 1997, Crossing Press, 2000, pp. 57–81. 2 Postcolonial studies have contributed greatly to understandings of the roles fiction has played in imperial and colonial projects. Central theoretical texts include Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Three Women’s Texts and


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At the same time, though, the film is arguably faithful less to the possibility of representing 19th-century Australia ‘as it was’ than to now familiar images that contrive such a time and place. The prostitutes who are the unintended casualties of the opening shoot-out recall stock orientalist imaginings of exotic, non-white female sexuality repeated in factual and fictional narratives in Australia and elsewhere in the British empire during the 19th and 20th centuries.3 Their particular counterpart in colonial Australia was the ‘Asian horde’, figured most rabidly in William Lane’s invasion novel, White or Yellow? A Story of the Race War of A.D. 1908 (serialised in 1888 in 12 episodes in the Boomerang, the weekly Brisbane newspaper Lane co-founded and edited): its dystopic centrepiece is the spectre of Chinese migrants who ‘overran everything’.4 The lingering shot of Martha’s bare unblemished shoulder as she bathes in an enamel tub relies on twinned notions around which colonial endeavours in Australia frequently turned,5 namely that white (English) women embody the highest qualities of civilisation symbolically and a profound vulnerability physically, and which come together in the film’s deeply disturbing d´enouement, the rape of Martha.6 Arthur Burns’ Indigenous female companion is depicted as a mystical healer, a recognisable role for the ‘native woman’ in colonial narratives when not denigrated as the epitome of the primitive or cautiously approved of as a noble savage: her presence hints at miscegenation and as such, within the logic of colonial narratives founded in racial hierarchy and prejudice, further marks Burns, by association, as an outsider. This figure of the rebel outlaw, tied with the genre of the Western that The Proposition exploits,7 has itself a long history in Australian social and literary culture, most notably in the form of the bushranger which dates from at least Thomas Wells’ Michael Howe: The Last and Worst of the Bush Rangers of Van Diemen’s Land (1818) and David Burn’s three-act play, The Bushrangers (performed in 1829 in Edinburgh); it finds one of its better-known representations in the aristocratic figure of Captain Starlight in Rolf

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a Critique of Imperialism’, Critical Inquiry, 12.1 (1985) pp. 243–61; Gauri Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India, Faber & Faber, 1990; and Firdous Azim, The Colonial Rise of the Novel, Routledge, 1993. For an influential account of these sexualised orientalist figures, see Alison Broinowski, The Yellow Lady: Australian Impressions of Asia, OUP, 1992. William Lane, ‘ “White or Yellow?” A Story of the Race-war of A.D. 1908’, Boomerang, 14 (18 Feb. 1888), p. 9. These figures found particular expressions in fictions that have come to be identified as captivity narratives. See Robert Dixon, ‘Israel in Egypt: The Significance of Australian Captivity Narratives’, Writing the Colonial Adventure: Race, Gender and Nation in Anglo-Australian Popular Fiction, 1875–1914, CUP, 1995, pp. 45–61; Kay Shaffer, In the Wake of First Contact: The Eliza Fraser Stories, CUP, 1995; Chris Healy, From the Ruins of Colonialism: History as Social Memory, CUP, 1997. See also Catherine Martin, An Australian Girl, 3 vols, Richard Bentley & Son, 1890, p. 86; J. D. Hennessey, An Australian Bush Track, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1896, p. 85. This scene, with its images of sexual assault, is troubling not only in terms of affect – the event is shocking – but also with respect to its seemingly uncritical reliance on rape as a means by which Charlie Burns, the brother to whom Stanley directs the proposition, is enabled to settle his brotherly and moral allegiances. See Carol Hart, ‘Portraits of Settler History in The Proposition’, Senses of Cinema 38 (2006) http//, accessed 3 June 2007. Brian McFarlane, ‘Brokeback and Outback’, Meanjin, 65.1 (2006), pp. 65–71.


No place for a book?

Boldrewood’s best-selling Robbery Under Arms (first serialised in the Sydney Mail in 1882–3 and later published in revised form in 1888, and again in 1889).8 With Starlight killed in a battle with the police, Dick Marston narrates the tale from his proper place behind bars awaiting execution: there is no questioning of lawful authority here. The story is told of cattle-duffing and bushranging in colonial New South Wales, of romance and betrayal (most notably by Warrigal, who negotiates with skill both Indigenous and non-Indigenous worlds, and is consequently regarded in the text with some distrust and ambivalence), and Marston is eventually granted his freedom. He marries his true love, Gracey Storefield, and heads to country Queensland ‘right away up on the Barcoo’, a place of new beginnings and opportunity: it is populated by fair-minded white settlers and station owners who are always willing to lend ‘a helping hand’ to a man who has ‘given up cross doings, and means to go straight for the future’,9 quite unlike the depiction of frontier Queensland and its populace in The Proposition. Such observations of The Proposition (and Robbery Under Arms) are not simply criticisms of culturally available images and narratives per se, as they might well be construed. They also strive both to recognise how 19th-century Australia now comes to us, and we to it, in the early 21st century, and to give an inkling of the demands the ‘19th century’ continues to make on the present. While there are too many to list here in any categorical or comprehensive manner, the number of recent fictions alone that variously engage with this past attests to the ongoing imaginative force of 19th-century Australia and the narrative forms it takes. The tripartite structure of Gail Jones’ Sixty Lights (2004), for instance, recalls the three-volume novel, and the interweaving of snapshot-like scenes from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations with the lives of Lucy and Thomas Strange, orphaned in colonial Australia in 1860, demonstrates the power of narrative (and the image) to shape actions and interactions in the imperial world. Brian Castro’s Birds of Passage (1983) links the story of Lo Yun Shan, an emigrant to Australia from Kwangtung during the gold rushes in the 1850s, with the life of Seamus O’Young, an Australian of Chinese descent, who finds and translates Shan’s journal, with the effect that distinctions between past and present begin to make little sense, and an unobtrusive but compelling challenge is posed to the tendency in many historical as well as fictional accounts of 19th-century Australia to (re)produce ‘a ubiquitous white past’.10 This ongoing fictional-critical interest in 19th-century Australia signals, furthermore, how the processes of colonisation at this time, together with pushes towards nationalism that were attended by their own myth-making machinations, prompt many novels 8 The film echoes the siege of Glenrowan in 1880, in which Ned Kelly was captured, and Kelly’s Jerilderie letter of 1879. See Ned Kelly, ‘From the Jerilderie Letter’, in Elizabeth Webby (ed.), Colonial Voices: Letters, Diaries, Journalism and Other Accounts of Nineteenth-Century Australia, UQP, 1989, p. 449. 9 Rolf Boldrewood, Robbery Under Arms, ed. Paul Eggert and Elizabeth Webby, UQP, 2006 [1882–3], pp. 602, 603. 10 Hsu-Ming Teo, ‘Future Fusions and a Taste for the Past’, Australian Historical Studies, 118 (2002), p. 131.


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(and writers) today to assume a responsibility of historical recuperation and restitution at the same time that they treat history and fiction themselves as subjects of some concern. Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs (1997), like Sixty Lights, engages with Dickens’ novel, placing the colonies in Australia at its centre (rather than at the periphery as a site of criminal banishment, as in Great Expectations) and giving voice to characters that are routinely marginalised in realist English Victorian fiction. Jean Bedford’s Sister Kate (1982) aims to insert the story of Kate Kelly into the legend of the 19th-century bushranger Ned Kelly. In a very different, epic mode, Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (2006) foregrounds Indigenous knowing and being in a way that confounds triumphant colonial and nationalist narratives and projects, past and present, with the debris of 19th-century white settlement: ‘thousands of bits and pieces of chipped and broken china – sugar-bears, yellow chickens, spotted dogs, and pink babies of lost cargo’ litter the Gulf of Carpentaria of the text.11 To presuppose we can speak of 19th-century Australia as though it were something unmediated, then, not only reinscribes a model of empirical history that was itself one of the most durable inventions of the European 19th century. It also sidesteps the possibility that fiction (including filmic fiction), with its tropes and narrative techniques, has a part in determining how the past(s) is conditionally and partially known, remembered, distributed and forgotten. From this point, it is useful to remember that any easy reference to fiction that seems to assume a shared understanding of writing and reading is itself misleading in this context. Like that of history, the category of fiction, if it can be put this way, was under construction during the 19th century in colonial Australia as well as elsewhere. Debates over what might constitute fiction and who might read it and why, together with practical matters of printing and distribution, were tied up in colonial Australia to a significant degree with the intricacies and contradictions of empireconsolidation and nation-building that those fictions often, but not always or necessarily, detailed. This is why The Proposition serves as a useful if unexpected prelude to this chapter. It is a reminder of the petitions the colonial past (partly by means of fictions and images both from then and of now) presents to the present. It also suggests some of the multiple forms and discussions that books and reading were involved with during this period. And it is a salutary caution: any effort to provide a history of 19th-century Australia and its fictions is itself likely indebted to, if not embedded in, many of the representational practices it presumes as its object of knowledge, and as such is open to contestation, revision and expansion.12 11 Alexis Wright, Carpentaria, Giramondo, 2006, p. 61. 12 Reflections on the narrative quality of literary historiography include Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism, Johns Hopkins UP, 1978, and The Content of Form, Johns Hopkins UP, 1987; and Georg Luk´acs, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah Mitchell and Stanley Mitchell, Merlin Press, 1962. Compare the recent heated debate involving Inga Clendinnen, Mark McKenna and Kate Grenville, among others, over the roles and responsibilities of history and fiction (see Chapter 16).


No place for a book?

Necessary materials In a felicitous coincidence for this chapter’s allocated historical sweep, it was in 1889, the year following the centenary of British invasion/settlement in Australia, that George Burnett Barton paused to reflect on the state of literary affairs in the colony of New South Wales; he concluded ruefully, if not a little irritably, in the Centennial Magazine: ‘it may be assumed that there are many men in the colonies, to say nothing of women, who would willingly make their appearance as authors if they had the facilities for the purpose that writers have in England’.13 Barton, it must be admitted, was by no means a dispassionate commentator on the subject. He was himself a magazine editor and journalist, among other distinctions,14 and the author of Literature in New South Wales (1866), a detailed account which, together with his edited collection, Poets and Prose Writers of New South Wales (1866), was commissioned for the Exposition Universelle of 1867 in Paris that showcased the achievements of French as well as British colonies. A glance at Literature in New South Wales, with its critical interest in, and chronological ordering of, newspaper publications, poetry, fiction, geography, oratory and theology, among other topics, suggests at least two striking features for its readers today. The first is the taken-for-granted flexibility and expansiveness of the term ‘literature’. It is almost impossible to imagine a book retailer or critic in the present day filing a volume of ethnology or law under the grouping of literature as Barton does. The second is a particular model of history shaping the work. It is one that invests in history as an inevitable, progressive dimension of existence and stresses the importance of evidential documentation. Barton’s testimony that ‘it has not proved an easy matter to procure the necessary material’ is partly a call for a collection to be established ‘in the interest of the public’ of locally written literature, otherwise thoughtlessly disposed of: ‘Newspapers and magazines are thrown aside as soon as they appear.’15 Of course, private libraries accompanied to the colonies those emigrants who could afford to transport them, and who believed they could not do without them; informal networks, in which volumes were exchanged, were perceived as especially useful in the face of any regular or reliable supply of new books.16 In 1821, the pooling of a number of ‘gentlemen’s collections’ resulted in the library of the Philosophical Society of Australasia.17 Following thereafter were subscription and 13 George B. Barton, The Status of Literature in 1889, Mulini Press, 1993 [1889], p. 14. 14 On his death in 1901, the weekly Bulletin, declared Barton to be the ‘first purely literary man produced by New South Wales’: cited in Victor Crittenden, ‘Introduction’, in Barton, Status of Literature, p. ii. Although this says more about the desire of the Bulletin to construct and champion local men of letters than about Barton himself, it is not without foundation. 15 George B. Barton, Literature in New South Wales, Thomas Richards, 1866, p. 2. 16 See Wallace Kirsop, ‘Bookselling and Publishing in the Nineteenth Century’, in D. H. Borchardt and W. Kirsop (eds), The Book in Australia: Essays Towards a Cultural and Social History, Australian Reference Publication and Centre for Bibliographical and Textual Studies, Monash University, 1988, p. 18. 17 Peter Orlovich, ‘The Philosophical Society Library, 1821–1822’, Biblionews and Australian Notes and Queries, 1.2 (1966), pp. 9–12.


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circulating libraries, including Mullen’s, together with free lending libraries sustained by the mechanics institutes established in Hobart Town (1827), Sydney (1833), Adelaide (1831), Melbourne (1839), Brisbane (1842) and Perth in the Swan River colony (1851).18 The institutes were modelled on British organisations and underpinned by the certainty that reading was a morally uplifting pursuit, particularly for the working classes, even though these libraries were frequented more often than not by the (lower) middle classes who were also newly identified as a ready market for imported and heavily discounted ‘colonial editions’.19 An introductory note to such an edition of Rosa Praed’s Longleat of Kooralbyn, or Policy and Passion: A Novel of Australian Life (1881) details the rationale of the colonial edition: ‘The favourable reception which was accorded to this story of the Antipodean life when it first appeared in three-volume form in London . . . warrants the experiment which is now made of a special edition, in a more popular form, for Australian readers.’20 In his research on the colonial bookselling trade, Wallace Kirsop notes dryly: ‘one is entitled to suspect that the primary aim [of English publishers] was not to satisfy – with taste and sensitivity – the special requirements of colonial readers but to dump excess stock’.21 With the world now demarcated in terms of DVD region codes – Australia is no longer colonial pink on the world map, but rather region 4 – this determination to control various aspects of book publication and distribution is not unknown. In the penal colonies (of which Adelaide was not one; the Swan River colony only became one in 1850, having been ‘settled’ in 1829) the promotion of reading took on a particular urgency. At first blush this had little to do with profit-making: it was thought to assist in the desirable erasure of the ‘taint’ supposedly entailed by the transportation of convicts from England to Australia, beginning with the departure from England in 1787 of the First Fleet, which left with a printing press on board but with no-one skilled to operate it. (See Chapter 2.) Luckily for the government of New South Wales, whose standing orders were in need of issuing, George Howe, apprenticed to the trade, was transported on the charge of shoplifting, and he took up the role of government printer in 1800. Howe subsequently enjoyed a successful career in publishing commerce, establishing in 1803 the newspaper, the Sydney Gazette, which ran until 1842. It is the disgrace not so much of the convict as the penal system itself that is confronted unflinchingly in Marcus Clarke’s novel His Natural Life (serialised in the Australian Journal 1870–2, revised for novel publication in 1874) and Caroline Leakey’s book, The Broad

18 See George Nadel, Australia’s Colonial Culture: Ideas, Men and Institutions in Mid-Nineteenth Century Eastern Australia, F. W. Cheshire, 1957. 19 See Graeme Johanson, A Study of Colonial Editions in Australia, 1843–1972, Elibank Press, 2000. 20 R[osa] M. Praed, Longleat of Kooralbyn, or Policy and Passion: A Novel of Australian Life, Australian edn, Richard Bentley & Sons, 1887 [1881], n.p. 21 Wallace Kirsop, Books for Colonial Readers: The Nineteenth Century Australian Experience, Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand and Centre for Bibliographical and Textual Studies, Monash University, 1995, p. 11.


No place for a book?

Arrow: Some Passages in the History of Maida Gwynnham, A Lifer (1859): both novels challenge the injustices of transportation and the abuses of power the penal system encourages. The Broad Arrow prudently counsels that it ‘is not wise to trust the best of men with unlimited power’. It traces the degradation suffered by Maida, who is transported to the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land where she works in domestic service, having been tricked into forgery and erroneously convicted of infanticide. Leakey’s novel centres on the domestic realm and the management of convict servants, among whom Maida’s class superiority is made obvious. As a consequence, though, her punishment is doubly difficult to endure – ‘over and above the usual miseries of convict life, [Maida] has loss of caste’ – that is, until her wilful pride gives way to a model of Christian femininity founded on humility and submission, and she dies.22 By contrast, Clarke’s text, much revised in novel form and notable for its insistent intertextuality and melodrama, forwards a secular, masculine world in the post-gold-rush era, which turns around displaced female sexuality.23 It focuses on Rufus Dawes, transported for a robbery he did not commit and convicted for his part in a mutiny he was attempting to thwart. In colonial Australia, he is subjected to the unrelenting, spectacular violence of the penal systems of Macquarie Harbour, Port Arthur and Norfolk Island, ‘repeatedly flogged for violence and insubordination’.24 This exposes the lawlessness of the law, but also sets the admittedly nightmarish scene for faith in humanist fortitude rather than religious salvation (at least in the serialised version; in the novel Dawes also meets an unhappy end). Another text detailing convict life is Henry Savery’s Quintus Servinton; A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence (1830–1). A fictional autobiography, its eponymous hero is also inclined to forgery and transported to Australia for his crime. Servinton’s selfpossessed demeanour is unfavourably set alongside his long-suffering wife, whose moral and virtuous superiority is made abundantly clear: ‘never was it more touchingly – and more delightfully displayed – than in the case of Emily’, she of heaving bosom and ‘a plentiful flood of tears’.25 The autobiographical work The Memoirs of the First ThiryTwo Years of the Life of James Hardy Vaux, A Swindler and Pickpocket; Now Transported for the Second Time, and For Life (1819), dedicated to the commanding officer at the Newcastle penal settlement, includes in its second volume the ‘New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language’, a handy resource for magistrates endeavouring to decode the slang of felons brought before them. (In his 1793 volume, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, Including An Accurate Description of the Situation of the Colony; of the Natives; and Of Its Natural Productions, the explorer and military office Watkin Tench made reference to ‘the flash, or kiddy language’ of the convicts and 22 Olin´e Keese [Caroline Leakey], The Broad Arrow: Some Passages in the History of Maida Gwynnham, A Lifer, Bentley, 1887 [1859], pp. 257, 139. 23 Ian Henderson, ‘Treating Dora in His Natural Life’, Australian Literary Studies, 21.1 (2003), pp. 67–80. 24 Marcus Clarke, His Natural Life, ed. Lurline Stuart, UQP, 2001 [1870–2], p. 270. 25 Henry Savery, Quintus Servinton: A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence, ed. Cecil H. Hadgraft, Jacaranda Press, 1962 [1830–1], p. 253.


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noted: ‘In some of our early courts of justice, an interpreter was frequently necessary to translate the deposition of the witness, and the defence of the prisoner.’)26 The title character of James Tucker’s Ralph Rashleigh, or The Life of an Exile (1844–5?) is regarded immediately by a fellow convict at the Emu Plains camp to which he is sent as a ‘motherless cub, all your sorrows to come’.27 Remarkably, these foretold miseries take form straight away: Rashleigh suffers injury as he labours under the orders of the obsequious overseer – ‘a little bandy-legged chocolate-cheeked Jew’28 – whose physical misshapenness, racial inferiority and diminutiveness register disturbing anti-Semitic tropes and sentiments. While these fictions, however troubling, may constitute part of the ‘necessary material’ for any specialised collection of 19th-century fiction in Australia today, it is unclear if they were in mind, and in any nascent collections, at the time Barton was considering colonial literature. During his travels in colonial Australia in the early 1870s, the English author Anthony Trollope observed with a novelist’s ethnographic eye, and with some surprise and satisfaction, the use in the colonies of numerous libraries’ collections, noting the ‘excessive thumbing of . . . Macaulay’s essays, Dickens’ novels, some of Scott’s novels, Tennyson and Pilgrim’s Progress’.29 Some 30 years earlier, Louisa Meredith had despondently detected with respect to the colony of New South Wales: ‘the circulating libraries are very poor affairs, but, I fear, quite sufficient for the demand, reading not being a favourite pursuit’.30 Moneymaking was routinely cited as the preferred pursuit in the colonies, and its association with vulgarity in Victorian England gives the seemingly contradictory comments by Meredith and Trollope a certain edge. Such concerns with settlers’ reading habits, at once plentiful and deficient, are voiced throughout the 19th century; they are less (repetitive) remarks on colonial customs than suggestive of the power attributed to reading and books for the marking out of the proper civility and taste in Australia, and of those who presumed to remark on these matters. Australian titles are conspicuous in their absence from Trollope’s catalogue that, while admittedly small and oriented to what Trollope was educated to find with his literary affiliations and affections, brings into relief Barton’s call for an otherwise ‘insensible’ audience to encourage the production and collection of ‘local’ literature.31 26 Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, Including An Accurate Description of the Situation of the Colony; of the Natives; and Of Its Natural Productions, G. Nicol & J. Sewell, 1793, p. 138. 27 Giacomo di Rosenberg [James Tucker] Ralph Rashleigh, or, The life of an exile, ed. Colin Roderick, A&R, 1952 [1844–5?], p. 79. 28 Ibid., p. 80. 29 Anthony Trollope, Australia and New Zealand, vol. 2, Chapman & Hall, 1873, p. 257. 30 Mrs Charles [Louisa] Meredith, Notes and Sketches of New South Wales, during a residence in that colony from 1839–1844, John Murray, 1844, p. 49. 31 Barton, Literature in New South Wales, p. 10. As well as her extensive and invaluable work on 19th-century Australian literature, Elizabeth Webby has demonstrated the presence of English literature in colonial Australia in the first half of the 19th century, which Trollope’s account only points towards. Webby, ‘English Literature in Early Australia, 1820–1829’, Southerly, 27.4 (1967), pp. 266–85; ‘English Literature in Early Australia,


No place for a book?

Rough groundwork: organising writing into fiction and history The complaint Barton makes regarding the unavailability of necessary material, furthermore, is also motivated by concepts of history-making and history-writing – here the two are tightly woven – dependent on the idea and actuality of an archive. Yet the unacknowledged upshot of this reliance on documentary evidence is that the central assertion of Literature in New South Wales – ‘the rough ground-work of a “national literature” has been laid’32 – appears value-free and matter-of-fact, a found knowledge, when such comment was far more likely to be politically charged, particularly for an audience in the colony of New South Wales where nascent nationalist rumblings were certainly not unheard of. The controversial Presbyterian minister and member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, J. D. Lang, for one, was a political voice at the time for nationalism and a federated Australian republic. That is, when he was not being imprisoned for libel and debt delinquency, overseeing his break-away congregation or rallying against Irish Catholic immigrants.33 He particularly objected to the single women recruited and trained in the domestic arts by Caroline Chisholm, to whom Mary Theresa Vidal ostensibly directed her moral stories in Tales for the Bush (1845). In a letter to the third Earl Grey, Secretary of State for Colonies, Chisholm wrote of the apparently desperate need in Australia for the influence of ‘ “God’s Police” – wives and little children – good and virtuous women’.34 For Chisholm, emigrant women, with their purported moral superiority and civilising influence, were of far more value to the colony than books and, for that matter, the clergy (among whom J. D. Lang would count himself). For Vidal, God’s police took the form of pious mistresses in whose service female servants, oftentimes encoded as explicitly Irish, were expected to be gratefully engaged. Servants are repeatedly identified in Vidal’s tales as a class in need of dire moral instruction: such stories work to confirm their apparently innate but surmountable slovenliness, impertinence and ungodliness. Mrs Jellicoe, in Clarke’s His Natural Life, declares servants to be worse than convicts and intones that she has ‘a fresh one every week’.35 More subtly, though, Vidal’s stories, first issued in sixpenny parts, instate the rightfulness of an English class system that did not transport easily to the colonies in Australia. As Mary (a servant in Vidal’s ‘Ruth Walsh’) declares in relation to the positioning of English dress as a signifier of class in the colonies: ‘it looks queer and

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1830–1839’, Southerly, 36.1 (1976), pp. 73–87; ‘English Literature in Early Australia, 1840–1849’, Southerly, 36.2 (1976), pp. 200–22; ‘English Literature in Early Australia, 1840–1849’, Southerly, 36.3 (1976), pp. 297–317. Barton, Literature in New South Wales, p. 4. J. D. Lang, Popery in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere, and how to check it effectually: an address to evangelical and influential Protestants of all denominations in Great Britain and Ireland, Thomas Constable, 1847. Caroline Chisholm, Emigration and Transportation Relatively Considered: In a Letter to Earl Grey, John Ollivier, 1847, p. 17. Clarke, His Natural Life, p. 236.


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old-fashioned here, and I cannot fall into it somehow’.36 In the context of the popularity of the tales in England as well as Australia (many editions were issued), Tales for the Bush was as much a collection of stories for the middle classes of the imperial centre and the outposts of empire as it was for their servants, and, more specifically, for the women of these middle classes, given the importance of feminine conduct to the representation of imperial and colonial culture to itself. As well as denouncing the supposed disproportionate number of Irish immigrants, Lang was involved in theorising the origins of cannibalism in Polynesia; composing poetry; ruminating on religion and education in the United States of America; and writing the two-volume An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales, both as a Penal Settlement and as a British Colony (1834), among other contributions to what might be termed transnational literary culture.37 For the prolific Lang, territorial borders did not seem to restrict the scope of his intellectual inquiries, and he appears keen too to exhaust the possibilities of language. ‘Although Dr. Lang is an indefatigable writer . . . There is little evidence of revision in his pages, although there is much of the necessity for it’, was Barton’s assessment of An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales,38 which to a reader today might seem firm but fair; there is certainly much material that might be thought of as extraneous. It was a view shared by some of Lang’s and Barton’s contemporaries. In the words of one English reviewer, which Barton quotes, Lang’s work in places sorely tests the ‘confidence in the coolness and impartiality of the historian’ because it reads like a ‘controversial pamphlet’.39 Another critic writing in the Westminster Review, whom Barton also cites, mischievously declares: ‘His [Lang’s] life has been a very stirring one, according to his own account of it; and he does give an account of it – so minute, indeed, that he might have entitled his work, The History of Dr. Lang, to which is added, the History of New South Wales.’40 A less roguish reader might soberly suggest that the comments of Barton, together with those of the English reviewers, signal the shaping of a consensus-of-sorts across the reading British empire on what forms history might take, what objects it might address itself to and what purposes it might serve.41 For these 36 Mary Teresa Vidal, ‘Ruth Walsh’, Tales for the Bush, Mulini Press, 1995 [1845], p. 27. 37 J. D. Lang, View of the Origin and Migrations of the Polynesian Nation; demonstrating their ancient discovery and progressive settlement of the continent of America, Cochrane and M‘Crane, 1834; J. D. Lang, Poems: Sacred and Secular, written chiefly at sea, within the last half-century, William Maddock, 1873; J. D. Lang, Religion and Education in America, with Notices of the State and Prospects of American Unitarianism, Popery and African Colonization, Thomas Ward & Co., 1840. 38 Barton, Literature in New South Wales, p. 124. 39 ‘The Eclectic Review, in one of its “Brief Notices,” thus summed up Dr. Lang’s historical merits on the same occasion’, ibid., p. 129. 40 ‘On the publication of the third edition, the following criticism appeared in the Westminster Review’, ibid., p. 128. 41 Historical accounts of the colony of New South Wales should abide by, it seems, David Hume’s directive – ‘drop all minute circumstances, which are only interesting during the time or to the persons engaged in the transactions’ – which encapsulated the shift during the 19th century to the idea of history as an empirical science: Hume, The History of England from the Invasion of Julian Caesar to the Revolution of 1688, vol. 2, Liberty Classics, 1983, p. 3, emphasis added. Hume’s works were often part of the private ‘gentlemen’s’ libraries in the


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men it would seem that history is not (in the manner of 18th-century European belles lettres, for instance) a matter of rhetoric and persuasion, but rather one of detachment and documentation. It is a particular idea of history that becomes part of the knowledge it arranges. What is further gleaned from these reviews of Lang’s volumes, moreover, is not so much the deliberate prising apart of history from autobiography, pamphleteering and fiction, but rather the organisation of knowledge and writing into such categories by which the (colonial) world is then attempted to be ordered and known.

Amenities for authors The greater part of Barton’s Literature of New South Wales offers an oblique entry into an aspect of a historiography that would come, together with fiction, to write 19thcentury colonial Australia, with significant consequences for those Indigenous people in particular whose lives often did not leave the kinds of evidence it was trained to see and value. In contrast, the main concern of its prefatory remarks, which are reiterated some 22 years later in the Centennial Magazine, are directed at the future of literature in Australia. For Barton (and he is by no means alone in promulgating this romantic idea), literature is the gauge of community character, but as things stood at the times of his writings in 1866 and 1889, this disposition was looking bleak. Not only was literature in New South Wales marked by ‘slavish imitations’, but its intended colonial readership also exercised a distinct lack of ‘patriotism’ when it came to local literature, and there was little to speak of with regard to regional publishing opportunities.42 Marcus Clarke depicted a gallery of lower bohemian Melbourne misfits – ‘the beggars, the liars, the impostors, the thieves, the vagabonds, the drunkards’ of whom he writes in one of his (anti-Semitic toned) Australasian sketches in 1869.43 (His imagining of 1860s Melbourne stands in stark contrast to its depiction in Tasma’s Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill, first serialised in 1888 in the Australasian, published in book form in 1889.) Barton lamented how ‘Men of genius have wandered through our streets without the means of earning bread . . . [and others] have led a life which was nothing but hopeless and protracted struggle.’44 It is this complaint regarding the lack of structural support for writers in colonial Australia that Barton specifically returned to in the Centennial Magazine; his comments on the need for amenities for authors in Australia comparable to those available in England must be read in this light rather than in terms of a desire to see the replication in the colonies of English ways. After all, it was the very structure colonies. As George Nadel observes, J. D. Lang and Daniel Deniehy, a radical democrat in colonial New South Wales whose interests ranged across law, politics and literary culture, both owned several: Australia’s Colonial Culture, p. 79. 42 Barton, Literature in New South Wales, pp. 13, 14. 43 Marcus Clarke, ‘A Cheap Lodging House’ (1869), in A Colonial City: High and Low Life. Selected Journalism of Marcus Clarke, ed. L. T. Hergenhan, UQP, 1972, p. 165. Clarke writes on the same page: ‘curious that in all the several depths of human misery one finds a Jew who contrives to live out of it’. 44 Barton, Literature in New South Wales, pp. 12.


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of the 19th-century fiction publishing industry, centred as it was in England, that so frustrated Barton. In significant contrast to many commentators on 19th-century literature in Australia who came before and after him, Barton, at least in the Centennial Magazine, addresses economic issues perceived to be facing authors seeking publication for their books in the colonies rather than offering aesthetic evaluations of the end-product. ‘Of all the books that have been published here’, Barton laments, ‘I do not know of one that can be said to have repaid the author for the time and labor devoted to the task of producing it.’ Relying on a comparison recognisable today, Barton bemoans the apathy of ‘the public’ towards literature in contrast to an exultant enthusiasm for ‘le sport in all its varieties’ (with French encapsulating, it would seem, the author’s mordant attitude to athletic activities), and which translates into ‘large sums of money so readily obtainable when required’. In short, Barton rehearses an argument that continues into the present regarding public funding of the arts, and literature particularly, at the same time that he constructs and berates a philistine public, which does not seem to know what is good for it, and takes aim at publishers as well as the authors themselves. The publishers, Barton decries, take none of the risk but expect to profit from book sales, ‘charging forty percent of the receipts’. And worse, Barton proclaims that writers are little aware of ‘their own interests’.45 For the author in 19th-century Australia, apparently lost in the fog of false consciousness, neither monetary compensation for ‘time and labor’ nor fame is forthcoming, with one qualification worth mentioning. It is recognition in Australia (or at least Sydney) that Barton values most: fame in London is one thing, but such an achievement would leave the author ‘very much where it found him [sic] in Sydney’. What is required to shake writers out of their complacency and redress their poverty, Barton counsels, is an ‘Australian Authors’ Society . . . in order to protect their own interests’46 in their own country. Protectionist and isolationist to a degree, such an innovation was also nationalist and anti-imperialist, directed at countering what was perceived by many contemporaries as the persistent colonial habit of looking to England for confirmation of literary status and cultural value, and finding little comfort. As it happens, it was in 1899 that an Australian Literature Society was established in Melbourne to support and study Australian literature; the government-funded Commonwealth Literary Fund commenced its support of writers in 1908; and in 1963 the Australian Society of Authors was founded to promote and protect the interests of writers in Australia and New Zealand. Despite overlooking the support governments did extend on occasion to authors – Louisa Meredith was awarded a pension of £100 by the Tasmanian government in 1884 for her distinguished contribution to the arts and sciences – it is important to recognise further, particularly for the purposes of this chapter, that Barton’s emphasis 45 Barton, Status of Literature, pp. 9, 10, 11, 12.


46 Ibid., pp. 12, 13.

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in his Centennial Magazine writings is on the production of literary fiction in novel form. Barton notes, in passing, that ‘the columns of a weekly newspaper form the only available means of publication open to a novelist’, and complains that remuneration for contributions is meagre. Barton goes on to state that ‘Facts of this kind [demonstrate that] there is no market here for literature even in its most popular forms.’47 It is not certain that such ‘facts’ do confirm this objection, but the detail to be acknowledged is the importance of newspapers for local fiction publication in Australia in the 19th century. Pipes – screws of paper – were one of the early means of mass media in the colonies by which verse-writers circulated anonymous materials mocking figures of authority. The more ‘respectable’ colonial newspapers, magazines and journals quickly came to figure as important vehicles for shaping and promoting fiction, as well as poetry, political debate and the reporting of events deemed of interest to the reading public. Admittedly, it is difficult to generalise about these publications. Lurline Stuart’s patient and extensive bibliographical research into literary periodicals published in 19th-century Australia reveals their variety, ‘comprising literary and university reviews, magazines about books, monthly magazines and miscellanies, family journals, political, religious, humanist and spiritualist journals, general and illustrated weeklies, educational magazines, musical, theatrical and sporting papers [perhaps much to Barton’s disgust], trade and advertising journals an popular overseas weekly papers and magazines’.48 Many of these literaryoriented enterprises were active, isolated and short-lived. In contrast, and from the 1860s in particular, the newspaper press found itself part of a wider communications network that involved the telegraph, the railways and the submarine cable laid between Australia and England by John Pender’s British–Australian Telegraph Company. The speed of these technologies collapsed time and space in ways hitherto unknown, both confirming imperial ties and contributing to the creation of the imagined national community. Elizabeth Morrison’s painstaking work makes known that by the end of 1891, 605 newspapers were in publication in Australia and at a conservative estimate, ‘At least one-third of these 600 or so papers carried one or two installments of fiction each week.’49 By no means were all of these fictions local. Ada Cambridge’s short story ‘The History of Six Hours’, for instance, is preceded on the same page of The Australasian by the serialised version of the 76th chapter of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1872); the column directly following Cambridge’s story contains a review of Sir Joseph Fayrer’s Thanatophidia of India (1872) a scientific text on snake poisoning.50 The prices of colonial editions undercut local publishers, and the costs 47 Ibid., p. 10. 48 Lurline Stuart, ‘Introduction’, Australian Periodicals with Literary Content 1821–1925: An Annotated Bibliography, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2003, p. ix. 49 Elizabeth Morrison, ‘Serial Fiction in Australian Colonial Newspapers’, in John O. Jordan and Robert L. Patten (eds), Literature in the Market Place: Nineteenth-Century British publishing and reading practices, CUP, 1995, p. 308. 50 A[da] C[ambridge], ‘The History of Six Hours’, The Australasian, 15 Feb. 1873, p. 198.


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in Australia of imported ink, paper and printing were exorbitant.51 Understandably, would-be authors often looked to place their work either with English publishers, which largely coordinated and controlled the imperial book market, or with local magazines and newspapers whose editors and owners, with their own political and revenue-raising agendas, were seeking to attract regular, paying readers: serialisations in particular were thought to encourage recurrent consumption. Newspapers also came to provide relatively steady employment for some writers, including Marcus Clarke, who wrote weekly sketches in the Australasian between 1867 and 1870: these columns were collected as The Peripatetic Philosopher (1869). Clarke subsequently edited the (then) monthly Australian Journal 1870–1, which during that time had a policy of publishing original fictions focused on colonial themes and settings. Clarke’s literary journalism, if it can be termed thus, falls outside Barton’s emphasis in the Centennial Magazine essays – that the material object of the book is the sign, par excellence, of literary achievement and cultural capital, with the faint hope of some financial recompense too. (This status accorded novel writing had not always been the case: in Literature in New South Wales Barton assures his readers that literature has now ‘become an honourable profession’, suggesting that fiction writing was, in the past, treated with some suspicion, aesthetically, morally and commercially.)52 Working with this model of fiction writing and production, Barton is unable to entertain the possibility that other forms of writing, and their appearances in contexts other than books, might question the notion of literature, and literary achievement, in which he invests and point to the importance of expanding such a category of fiction if the scope of imaginative writing in colonial Australia is to be grasped at all. After all, fiction, like history, was itself a malleable category in 19th-century Australia, with Clarke himself aware both of the various modes of writing on which his Australasian sketches drew and the demands of the market. He states in self-deprecation and with comedic result in the preface to The Peripatetic Philosopher: How comes it, you not unnaturally ask, that this fellow thrusts himself into Print, and publishes a preposterous book, full of stale jokes, and borrowed metaphors, and stolen thoughts and hashed-up ideas of other people? The answer is a straight-forward one – ‘I publish it simply because I think it will sell.’53

The debates about the status of fiction for thinking about writing (in) Australia in the 19th century are less straightforward. In 1864, for example, William Walker cast an eye over literature in Australia for an appreciative audience in Sydney.54 He remarks that when speaking of Australia he is 51 For a comprehensive list of publishers, see Ian Morrison, The Publishing Industry in Colonial Australia: A Name Index to John Alexander Fergusons’s Bibliography of Australia, 1784–1900, Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, 1996. 52 Barton, Literature in New South Wales, p. 11. 53 Marcus Clarke, The Peripatetic Philosopher, George Robertson, 1869, p. 2. 54 The humorous weekly, the Sydney Punch, was a little less admiring of Walker’s speech, lampooning the presumption to lecture on Australian literature: Anon. ‘Mr. Punch’s Lecture on Australian Literature (N.B.– No connection with Walker’s ditto.)’, 8, 15 October 1864, pp. 160, 163.


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rather referring to New South Wales, for the reason that ‘for many years [this colony was] the only Australia recognized or generally known’.55 (For someone writing today in Perth, whither characters in television soaps are routinely exiled when their removal from the script is required, this synecdochical quality of New South Wales carries a certain contemporary resonance.) Walker, in the course of his lecture, makes casual reference to three novel fictions only: Louisa Atkinson’s Gertrude the Emigrant: A Tale of Colonial Life (1857) and Cowanda; or, The Veteran’s Grant (1859), and Alexander Harris’ Martin Beck (an 1852 reissue of The Emigrant Family, or The Story of an Australian Settler, 1849). Walker, not having read the latter, seems to have thought little of it. Gertrude the Emigrant, by contrast, is praised as ‘instructive and fascinating’ – an evaluation shared by Barton, who commented in his earlier work that it was ‘a production of more than average merit’.56 Cowanda is said to be ‘very nicely written’, notable for being ‘not so large or pretentious as its predecessor’.57 Atkinson was keenly interested in the natural sciences and literature – like both Georgiana Molloy, who botanised in what she nominated in one of her letters ‘this iniquitous Colony’,58 the Swan River colony; and her near-contemporary, Louisa Meredith, who wrote and illustrated books on botany and landscape in the colonies of New South Wales and Tasmania and in Melbourne, as well as autobiography, poetry, children’s books, novels and social sketches. Atkinson’s novel Cowanda moves between urban Sydney and life on a small holding in New South Wales and features a naturalist, Frank Maclean. He literally stumbles into a goldfield diggings site for the purposes of keeping ‘a journal of my proceedings, which I hope to have published’,59 as he informs other characters. Ellen Clacy also ventured to the goldfields, those in Victoria predominantly, and subsequently published her ‘proceedings’, A Lady’s Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia in 1852–53 (1853). Part travelogue, travel-guide, history, ethnography and adventure romance, with letters, shopping lists, newspaper extracts and diary entries included, this writing resists easy classification. Atkinson’s fictional Maclean does not doubt his assumption to report on the gold rushes that gripped the eastern colonies during the 1850s and 1860s (the gold boom in the west of the continent occurred during the 1890s). In contrast, Clacy is well aware of her status as a woman observer and writer. She strategically presents her text, and her presence in the colonies, in terms of providing much-required information for concerned female relatives in England, ‘the many mothers, wives and sisters . . . whose hearts are ever longing for information respecting the dangers and privations to which their relatives at the antipodes are exposed’.60 In other words, Clacy looks to and 55 William Walker, ‘Australian Literature: A Lecture, &c.’, Mulini Press, 1996 [1864], p. 3. 56 Barton, Literature in New South Wales, p. 111. 57 Walker, ‘Australian Literature’, pp. 20, 21. 58 Georgiana Molloy, letter, 8 December 1834, in Lynne Spender, ed., Her Selection: Writings by Nineteenth-Century Australian Women, Penguin, 1988, p. 12. 59 Louisa Atkinson, Cowanda, The Veteran’s Grant, An Australian Story, ed. Elizabeth Lawson, Mulini Press, 1995 [1859], p. 65. 60 Ellen Clacy, A Lady’s Visit to the Gold Diggings of Australia in 1852–53, Kessinger, 2003 [1853], p. 1.


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extends one of the roles that white women in the colonies were expected to fulfil: the careful keeping and crafting of letters and journals,61 whose style and content was possibly informed to some degree by fictional writings that, in turn, were shaped by letter-writing conventions. (The largely epistolary novel, The Guardian, 1838, by ‘An Australian’, Anna Maria Bunn, suggests this productive intersection between the literary and letter-writing.) Such letters were sent overseas and, if they reached their intended destinations, were widely read by family and friends eager to be apprised of everyday activities and antipodean curiosities. The concluding sentence of Ada Cambridge’s novel, The Three Miss Kings (serialised in the Australasian in 1883; published as a novel in 1891), impresses the importance of women’s letter-writing for the maintenance of relationships between family members who are otherwise dispersed across the imperial world as a consequence of the plots of colonial romances: ‘weekly letters of prodigious length [are] left as a sort of hostage to fortune, valuable if not altogether trustworthy security for the safety of . . . dearest possessions’, Cambridge writes.62 Gertrude the Emigrant takes its cue too from women’s reporter-responsibility role, and makes passing reference to the goldfields and their hazards. Mr Tudor, the eventual husband of the eponymous protagonist, warns against the folly of fortune-hunting by means of gold prospecting: ‘many lost their all’, he instructs an eager, elderly prospector. The latter dies, not entirely unexpectedly, following a rock fall that occurs during the digging of a pit and directly after their exchange, but not before he confesses to Tudor that the pursuit of wealth has left him spiritually depleted. Such an admission underlines Tudor’s moral authority. Gertrude’s marriage to this man in the last pages of the novel, as an emigrant ship passes across the background, consolidates her own class status and its attendant advantages. Becauses she has emigrated to colonial Australia and found employment as a domestic servant, Gertrude’s class standing is obscured, although her fine breeding is never really in doubt: her ability to arrange flowers, for example, a skill deemed significant in the domestic lives of middle-class women, demonstrates that her ‘taste and knowledge were so vastly superior’ to those for whom she worked.63

What are you? Books of travel in disguise If it had been published a little earlier than it was, however, Gertrude the Emigrant might well have been one of those novels Frederick Sinnett criticised in his essay ‘Fiction Fields of Australia’ (1856) for being ‘too apt to be books of travel in disguise’.64 At the time of Sinnett’s writing, emigration to the eastern colonies in Australia by free settlers 61 For examples, see Lucy Frost, No Place for a Nervous Lady: Voices from the Australian Bush, Penguin, 1985. 62 Mrs Cross [Ada Cambridge], The Three Miss Kings: A Tale of Colonial Life, Melville, Mullen & Slade, 1891 [1883], p. 314. 63 Louisa Atkinson, Gertrude the Emigrant: A Tale of Colonial Life, ed. Elizabeth Lawson, School of English and Australian Scholarly Editions Centre, University College, ADFA, with Mulini Press, 1998 [1857], pp. 281, 111. 64 Frederick Sinnett, The Fiction Fields of Australia, intro. Cecil Hadgraft, UQP, 1966, p. 31.


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was on the increase, motivated in part by the promise of prosperity. The decision to venture across the world, moreover, was informed and encouraged by ‘hundreds of books, pamphlets, newspaper accounts, advertisements and official brochures [that] attempted to direct [to Australia, rather than to North America] the flood of free immigration from Britain and Ireland’.65 Not all texts of this sort were necessarily celebratory. Meredith’s Notes and Sketches of New South Wales (1844) makes reference to both the preponderance of pesky insects that ‘seem to pervade this colony in one universal swarm’ and the deplorable taste exhibited by many in Australia in dress, manner and vocalisation.66 The authorial intent of emigration-themed publications varied between profit, propaganda, travel advice and moral guidance, so it is perhaps not surprising that these diverse interests are also registered in some of the fiction of the time. Atkinson’s Gertrude is an emigrant, after all, and the novel is a handbook of sorts in at least two ways. It details a unique antipodean Arcadia, with great enthusiasm, in (old) English terms and from an authoritative, panoramic height that a painter or a photographer newly experimenting with elongated daguerreotypes would appreciate: A green knoll rose above the cottage, thinly wooded by large old Eucalypti, grey and rugged, with scanty leaves scattered over the lofty branches; what a prospect rewarded the ascent! for miles spread out the alternating farms and wood; now rising into an eminence, now sinking abruptly into a vale, or widening into a little plain; and beyond, all those ethereal shades of blue mountains – then the fiery kiss of the sun upon the distant horizon, and the lighting up of the before grey cloud, as if to proclaim once more ‘Peace on earth, and good will towards man.’67

Aesthetically patterned and naturally possessed of Christian qualities, the good will of the picturesque colonial landscape stops short of the Indigenous inhabitants who ‘are nearly extinct now, in this part of the country’ but extends invitingly to others who know and appreciate knolls and vales. At the same time, though, the novel is an ethical and spiritual guide, attending to the domestic experiences that many women might face in the colonies and from which Gertrude herself comes to learn: ‘whilst with a heart just expanding to womanly affections, she fell into the emigrant girl’s common error, an attachment which her mature judgment, and strengthened Christian character condemned’, Atkinson writes.68 Harris’ Martin Beck is overlooked by Walker but singled out by Sinnett for particular attention – in his opinion the book ‘possesses comparatively little merit as a novel’.69 It is another such emigration fiction. It rehearses the conventions of romance and melodrama, following the fortunes of the members of the Bracton family who ‘had 65 Bob Reece, Australia, the Beckoning Continent: Nineteenth Century Emigration Literature (The Trevor Reese Memorial Lecture 1988), University of London, 1988, p. 1. 66 Meredith, Notes and Sketches, p. 45. 67 Atkinson, Gertrude the Emigrant, p. 260. 68 Ibid., pp. 292, 263. 69 Sinnett, Fiction Fields, p. 42.


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now betaken themselves to the enterprise of founding a home at the antipodes’. Besides useful travel advice – Harris reminds his readers that ‘On opposite sides of the equator, the seasons of the year are, of course, reversed’, and provides an overview of how Christmas is celebrated in the Australian bush – the book is replete with sub-plots. Perhaps the most intriguing turns around the ominous character Martin Beck, ‘a fine and rather handsome young man of American-negro descent [who] grew up, with all the fire of Africa in his veins [and] became painfully sensible that he was an alien in his native land’ of Australia.70 Lieutenant Bracton’s first question to Beck – ‘But what are you?’ – illustrates a (racialised) denial of subject-hood, which Beck then seeks for himself through his efforts to garner wealth and influence. 71 Thomas McCombie’s Adventures of a Colonist; or, Godfrey Arabin the Settler (1845) resembles Charles Rowcroft’s Tales of the Colonies (1843) before it and An Emigrant in Search of a Colony (1851) after it, and William Howitt’s A Boy’s Adventure in the Wilds of Australia (1854). They all share Martin Beck’s interest in explaining what is assumed to be the strange otherness of the colonies in Australia. Adventures of a Colonist follows in form the self-acknowledged example of Washington Irving’s sketches. (These were available for purchase from James Tegg’s Sydney bookshop in the late 1830s and their author was eulogised in the weekly journal The Southern Cross by Daniel Deniehy, widely celebrated in colonial Australia as a politician, orator and man of letters.) It pauses in the narrative of the pioneering endeavours of Godfrey Arabin to discourse approvingly on topics such as the ‘great grazing-land classes’ that organise as the Pastoral Association to remonstrate against ‘increased taxation’. McCombie’s novel, with its vision of colonial Australia as a pastoral paradise for capitalist emigrants on which the ‘future greatness of England’ is to be founded,72 has much in common too with Henry Kingsley’s romance The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859), although the latter does not offer advice such as ‘Every emigrant who can land in Australia with £500, and who is contented to live the life of a farmer with stock, ought to bring a wife with him’ with the same frankness of phrase as that demonstrated in Adventures of a Colonist.73 This turn of expression, however, is not clear evidence for Sinnett’s claim that authors of these so-called books of travel are ‘but voyagers sailing under the false colors of novelists’.74 Rather, Sinnett’s comments themselves are revealing for what they say about ‘novelistic colours’, which were arguably many-hued (to enlarge a rather hackneyed metaphor) in Australia during the 19th century rather than ‘false’. Emigration fiction, if it can be grouped loosely as such, cannot be easily dismissed in terms of its apparent failure to achieve some pure form or theme, and can be usefully understood as part of wider efforts to know the British Empire and the parameters of fiction itself, dual concerns that Sinnett’s essay implicitly rehearses. 70 Alexander Harris, Martin Beck: or, the Story of an Australian Settler, Routledge, 1853, pp. 8, 1, 16, 17. 71 Ibid., p. 17, emphasis added. 72 Thomas McCombie, Adventures of a Colonist; or, Godfrey Arabin the Settler, University of Sydney Library, 1997 [1845], pp. 5, 34, 130. Available online at 73 Ibid., p. 143. 74 Sinnett, Fiction Fields, p. 31.


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Romance and realism For Sinnett, Catherine Helen Spence’s novel Clara Morison: A Tale of South Australia during the Gold Fever (1854) is an exemplary book. Spence, who today is identified as an important social reformer and feminist (the latter a term she would not have used herself), presents in Clara Morison an account of the Adelaide gold rush period that focuses less on the goldfields, as the title might imply, than the domestic spaces in which colonial women work and live. Like many 19th-century novels, Clara Morison details the arrival in Australia of a well-bred young woman who is forced into service before marrying a squatter. This domestic romance plot did more than unite happy heterosexual couples, however: it examined marriage as an institution embedded in systems of value and exchange that reached well beyond any notion of a ‘free’ union. Nearly 30 years after the publication of Clara Morison, Mr Jacobsen in Praed’s Miss Jacobsen’s Chance 1886) devises to coerce his daughter into a marriage that will serve his political interests. Stella Courtland in Catherine Martin’s An Australian Girl (1890) is deceived into rejecting her preferred companion, the erudite and English Dr Anselm Langdale (who shares with Stella a passion for ethnography and metaphysics); she marries instead Ted Ritchie, a knockabout Australian bloke who turns out to be by no means Stella’s scholarly compeer and distressingly intemperate. The latter failing is shared by Harvey Lomax in Praed’s novel The Bond of Wedlock (1887). An intellectual mismatch in marriage partners is also rued by Richard Delavel in Ada Cambridge’s novel A Marked Man (1890; first serialised in the Age in 1888–9 as ‘A Black Sheep’), but it is something with which the protagonist of An Australian Girl must stoically deal. As Martin’s text suggests, romance fictions took on a particular role during the latter part of the century in Australia as a means by which to dramatise, negotiate and expose the entangling of white female desire with colonial and nationalist concerns. Stella’s marriage to Ritchie, instead of Langdale, positions these two characters as the ‘Coming Australian Couple’; Praed’s Longleat of Kooralbyn also privileges, in the end, the marriage of Honoria Longleat, the daughter of the premier of Leichardt’s Land (notionally colonial Queensland) to Dyson Maddox, the solid Australian suitor, rather than to Hardress Barrington who, banished to the colonies, is devious, dissipated and (worst of all) English. In Tasma’s short story, ‘How a Claim Was Nearly Jumped in Gum-Tree Gully’ (1878), the arrival in the colonies of Dave’s sweetheart Tilly (rather than the English male suitor who enters numbers of colonial romances) underscores an ideal of ‘mateship’ her sexual presence heightens and threatens. Writing settlement as heterosexual romance – Dave’s claim to land is marked by the carving into a tree of his initial with that of his betrothed – Dave’s nameless mate continues the thematic conjoining of desire and colonisation, couching fidelity to his friend and repressing his want for Tilly in terms respecting gendered capitalist proprietorship: ‘’Tisn’t a claim as


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any one can jump!’75 Sexual competitiveness and extramarital desire are also entertained in Cambridge’s A Woman’s Friendship (serialised in the Age in 1889), although the story largely takes place in the urban Melbourne setting of the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition rather than ‘the bush’, and it is a wedded woman who must ultimately suppress her desire for an unmarried man. Written and published during a time in which discussions over nationalism were increasingly articulated in the colonies in Australia, the virility of the British Empire was under scrutiny. (A cluster of colonial adventure romances, which included J. D. Hennessey’s An Australian Bush Track, 1896, and Praed’s Fugitive Anne, 1902, register such anxieties.) As the so-called Woman Question debated the social positions and sexual proprieties of middle-class women, these romances often played out such concerns through their white female characters. Many contemporary commentators, though, seem to have read romance fictions quite differently. Cambridge and Praed were acclaimed by A. Patchett Martin in his evaluative historical survey of 19th-century Australian literature, The Beginnings of an Australian Literature (1898), for the reason that they were understood to write with an ‘unfailing touch of truth’.76 Desmond Byrne, author of the review Australian Writers (1896), commended An Australian Girl on similar grounds, declaring it comprised ‘the most perfect description of the peculiar natural features of the country ever written’.77 Prior to these end-of-the-century assessments of Australian fiction to date, which appear to value realism implicitly as both an interpretive framework and as a preferred mode of representation, Sinnett had declared Clara Morison to be ‘Decidedly the best Australian novel that we have met with’.78 Perhaps in part this was because of Spence’s emphatically non-travel-book-like description of Adelaide on first impression: ‘The grass was scanty . . . there was not one flower to be seen, the sun was scorchingly hot; the wind . . . blew as if out of a furnace; the cart jolted . . . while passengers abused the weather, and prayed for a railroad.’79 What impressed Sinnett most about Clara Morison, though, was that it appeared to adhere to what he understood as the correct qualities not only of fiction per se – that he has to detail these characteristics suggests that their common recognition cannot be assumed – but also a model of fiction that treats in the ‘right manner’ the ‘suitability of Australian life and scenery’ for novel-writing.80 With a focus clearly on the writing alone, the part that context or readers, such as Sinnett himself, might have in the production of shifting definitions of Australian fiction is not, and cannot be, entertained. At first look confused and contradictory, Sinnett’s assertion that Clara Morison deserves praise for the reason that it is both ‘thoroughly

75 Tasma [Jessie Couvreur], ‘How a Claim was Nearly Jumped in Gum-Tree Gully’ (1878), in Michael Ackland (ed.), A Sydney Sovereign, A&R, 1993, p. 56. 76 A. Patchett Martin, The Beginnings of an Australian Literature, Mulini Press, 1998 [1898], p. 28. 77 Desmond Byrne, Australian Writers, Richard Bentley & Son, 1896, p. 25. 78 Sinnett, Fiction Fields, p. 34. 79 Catherine Helen Spence, Clara Morison: A Tale of South Australia during the Gold Fever in Helen Thomas (ed.), Catherine Helen Spence, UQP, 1987 [1854], p. 17. 80 Sinnett, Fiction Fields, p. 22.


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Australian’ and not really Australian at all, with ‘local colouring . . . the accident – the portrayal of human life and interest being the essential’81 is an exemplary grappling with the intersection of two projects-in-process during the 19th century: the shaping of an idea of ‘fiction’, in the form of the novel, and the making of ‘Australia’. The universalist aims of humanistic novel fiction, at least as Sinnett describes and values these ‘colors’ in the mid-19th century, and especially in the light of those much maligned books of travel, are at odds with one image of the colonies in Australia as specific, if not unique. ‘Australian fiction’ is charged at this moment with the task of negotiating these seemingly incommensurable interests, an undertaking that continues throughout 19th-century writing in Australia.

Scientific fictions Part of this assignment is to be resolute on a distinction between Australian fiction and ‘any quantity of things illustrative of ethnology, zoology, and botany’: it was necessary for the sciences and literature to be separated in order for a work of art to be fully realised, at least in Sinnett’s view, which was not his alone.82 That Sinnett insists on this distinction suggests that the lines between fiction and science were often blurred. During the late 18th and 19th centuries, the colonies in Australia, their native flora and fauna and their Indigenous populations, were the subjects of a great many scientific enquiries and ‘discoveries’. Captain James Cook’s first voyage into the Pacific (1768–71), which saw Cook hoist the British flag on the eastern part of New Holland, was itself part of an ambitious scientific experiment underpinned by Enlightenment confidence in reason and quantification that sought to map the universe by observance of the transit of the planet Venus across the sun. Accompanying Cook was the botanist, Joseph Banks. His schooling in natural history and Linnaean binomial nomenclature provided a framework by which he might presume to observe (and indeed possess through knowledge) the new world before him, a world that quickly came to confound many of the assumptions of such paradigms. New languages and narrative forms were required to make intelligible what prevailing models could not describe. They had a lasting outcome on the organisation of ways of interpreting and understanding the world more widely as science itself came to be a specialised, autonomous field in the 19th century, with branches and sub-disciplines including ethnology, zoology and botany, and which claimed for itself a certain precedence among other forms of knowledge. That Sinnett might have borrowed from sciences for both the title of his study (fiction as a controlled field) and his objective critical posture is glossed over in his determination to separate out fictional art from science. Nor is there any recognition that his assessment of what he identified as the formal realist principles of Clara Morison – ‘it was only necessary for the author to put her people down then and there, and to 81 Ibid., p. 35.


82 Ibid., p. 35.

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let them play their parts easily and naturally around the circumstances by which they were surrounded’83 – might have anything in common with scientific epistemological procedures and analytical methods that found expression in laboratory conditions. If Sinnett sought to police the borders between science and fiction, the very means by which he attempted to do so were dependent on their intersection, a juncture that scientists and writers of fiction in 19th-century Australia often traversed. Much might be made of the publication of Cambridge’s short story in the Australasian alongside Eliot’s serialised Middlemarch – the appearance of the latter suggests the role that colonial newspapers and syndicated serial publications had in creating a consensus across the British empire on what literary culture might look like. But its appearance side by side with the review of a recent scientific text says something about the possible mutual familiarity of ideas in fiction and science, and the non-surprise that readers at the time might have felt in seeing the two placed together in this way. The terms by which scientific knowledge was produced were often attractive to fiction. Not apart from the realist study of the world that Sinnett accords Spence’s work, which recruits scientific methods for aesthetic purposes, fictional efforts to determine Australian ‘types’ – such as the Australian Girl in Martin’s novel of that name – were underscored by both nationalist feeling and a desire to order through typology, which 19th-century science promoted. Another instance of the intersection between science and fiction is detective fiction, a genre popular with readers in the colonies and England, if the outstanding success of Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886) is any indication. Detective Gorby, assigned in that novel (with its illustrative photographs) to the case of the hansom cab murder in Melbourne, exercises deductive abilities that depend on the existence of immutable laws that permit the narrativisation of observed phenomena: ‘He looked keenly round the room, and his estimate of the dead man’s character was formed at once.’84 Writing detective-crime fiction some 20 years or more before Hume, Waif Wander (Mary Fortune) provides in her short story, ‘Memoirs of an Australian Police Office, no. 4; Traces of Crime’ (1865), an intriguing abutting of two conceptions of worldly order – religious and scientific deduction – that, at the time of her writing, were often understood as rivals for epistemological pre-eminence. Fortune places her detective on the goldfields to track down a tattooed man suspected to have committed a heinous crime against a woman, and has him concede, when the last clue falls into place: ‘Well, this does indeed and most truly look like the working of Providence.’85 Whether by science or by divine intervention, the moral and social status quo is confirmed in these detective fictions. In turn, the sciences were sometimes indebted to the narrative structures and figures of fiction. In his well-respected Gatherings of a Naturalist in Australia: Being Observations 83 Ibid., p. 36. 84 Fergus Hume, The Mystery of the Hansom Cab, Jarrolds [1888], p. 44. 85 W[aif] W[ander] [Mary Fortune], ‘Memoirs of an Australian Police Officer, no. IV, Traces of Crime’, The Australian Journal, 2 Dec. 1865, p. 221.


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Principally on the Animal and Vegetable Productions of New South Wales, New Zealand, and some of the Austral Islands (1860), George Bennett, ‘a leading figure in the colony’s scientific life’,86 allows himself some literary licence when attempting to describe the affective quality of bioluminescence; curiously, the topic itself – non-observable affect – is not something that a naturalist might be expected to comment on in the first place. Having determined that its routine description at sea as ‘liquid fire’ is insufficient, Bennett turns to spooky gothic tropes and follows the trajectory of fairy-tales into dark places to relate responses to its form in fungoid plants: The effect produced by it on the traveller, when on a dark night he comes suddenly upon it glowing in the woods, is startling; for to a person unacquainted with this phenomenon of the vegetable kingdom, the pale, livid and deadly light emanating from it conveys to him an impression of something supernatural, and often causes no little degree of terror in weak minds, or in those willing to believe in supernatural agencies.87

Bennett distances himself immediately from such intellectual timidity by relating that his knowledge of the plants and their property of light suitably derives from his rational observation of them in a carefully regulated room. Pluck and reason were similarly prized in the published journals of 19th-century inland explorers such as Thomas Mitchell, Charles Sturt, Ernest Giles and Edward Eyre. Not all of them were strictly scientists in the way that Bennett would understand himself to be as a naturalist, but they were expressly charged nevertheless with providing the Colonial Office with scientific information about the Australian interior to assist in the ownership and development of the British Empire. The modes by which explorers variously rewrote the obligatory diary entries kept during the journey, however, owe much to the narrative structures of melodrama, heroic adventure and the epic.88 In turn, adventure romance fictions including J. F. Hogan’s The Lost Explorer (1890) and Ernest Favenc’s The Secret of the Australian Desert (1895) drew on explorer experiences (as well as the popular success of H. Rider Haggard’s imperial romance novels whose narrative plots, tropes and value systems they emulate). While Favenc’s other works include The History of Australian Exploration from 1788 to 1888 (1888), these two novels are directly interested in the fate of Ludwig Leichhardt – his disappearance in 1848 while attempting to cross the Australian continent continues to haunt Australian literature – and implicitly perform the work of empire through displacement: erupting volcanoes, rather than human will and violence, clear the land of its Indigenous occupants, leaving it free for colonial endeavours and imaginative projections. 86 Ann Mozley Moyal, ed., Scientists in Nineteenth Century Australia: A Documentary History, Cassell, 1976, p. 74. 87 George Bennett, Gatherings of a Naturalist in Australia: Being Observations Principally on the Animal and Vegetable Productions of New South Wales, New Zealand, and some of the Austral Islands, John Van Voorst, 1860, pp. 58, 59. 88 See Ross Gibson, The Diminishing Paradise: Changing Literary Perceptions of Australia, Sirius, 1984; Robert Dixon, The Course of Empire: Neo-Classical Culture in New South Wales 1788–1860, OUP, 1986; Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay: an Exploration of Landscape and History, University of Chicago Press, 1987; Simon Ryan, The Cartographic Eye: How Explorers Saw Australia, CUP, 1996; Paul Genoni, Subverting the Empire: Explorers and Exploration in Australian Fiction, Common Ground, 2004.


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We informed you: writing Aboriginality There were physical and fictional efforts during the 19th century and beyond to erase Aborigines from colonial view – endeavours that, during the latter half of the century, were frequently embedded in popularised scientific (racial) theories such as evolution and emerging disciplines including biology and ethnography – and to deal with invasion/settlement by the British. In the face of these efforts, Aboriginal people utilised a number of written forms and genres: ‘letters, poems, essays, pamphlets, newsletters, newspaper articles, petitions, manifestoes, speeches, interviews, anecdotes and traditional stories’.89 As Penny van Toorn has shown, Aborigines practised cultures of reading and writing that negotiated introduced or imposed literacy and Indigenous procedures; they also worked as translators of religious texts and as collaborators with ethnographers.90 The work of William Barak, Ngurangaeta of the Wurundjeri people, with the anthropologist A.W. Howitt, resulted in the publication of Kamilaroi and Kurnai (1880). This text may well have been of some interest to Stella Courtland in An Australian Girl, given that she is said to be ‘always interested about the niggers’ and looking to expand ‘her collection of Aboriginal myths and customs’.91 It is unclear, though, if she would, or indeed could, have entertained the protests against the treatment of Aborigines living on the Coranderrk Reserve articulated in a letter Barak signed with others in 1882 and submitted to an inquiry: We informed you by these few lines that we dont want a strange manager here only the one we ask for please. We also dont want the Central Boards, and the present Inspector, to be no longer over us.92

Politicised Aboriginal subjects do not fit neatly into Stella’s conception of indigeneity as an anachronistic object of ethnographic study. Nor do they seem possible in Ellen Liston’s short story, ‘My Neighbour’s Mystery’ (1869). In this piece, a curious gentleman residing in South Adelaide, having heard mutterings through the fence regarding the 89 Penny van Toorn, ‘Early Aboriginal Writing, and the Discipline of Literary Studies’, Meanjin, 55.4 (1996), p. 754. 90 Penny van Toorn, Writing Never Arrives Naked: Early Aboriginal Cultures of Writing in Australia, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2006. 91 Martin, Australian Girl, vol. 1, pp. 30, 162. 92 VPRS 1226/P0 Supplementary Inward Registered Correspondence, unit 4, X1857 Aborigines & Coranderrk Inquiry, William Barak letter, available on-line at documents/01226_u004_001.html. Barak and Coranderrk are discussed in Chapter 3, above.


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placement of Harper Boulton down the well, suspects his neighbours of being ‘murderer[s], or at least . . . bodysnatcher[s]’. As it turns out, much to the embarrassment of the teetotal would-be-detective, Harper Boulton is a brand of beer, bottles of which have been put in the well for the purposes of cold storage; the suspicious objects over which he espied his female neighbour hastily throw a cloth are, in fact, ‘two blackfellows’ skulls’. The young neighbours are ‘warm supporters and students of the twin sciences – physiology and phrenology – and were always craving the possession of skulls and skeletons’. The minor misadventure turns out happily; the accused ‘literally shouted with laughter’ when the neighbour confesses his fears, and are immediately reconciled with the contrite gentleman.93 It is difficult to know how contemporary colonial readers would have responded to this story which, in formal terms, feels a lot like the case-of-mistaken-identity plot of a half-hour television sitcom, complete with signposts for canned laughter: ‘and then they all laughed again’.94 The skulls are revealed in Liston’s story to be those of ‘blackfellows’; this shifts the neighbours from the roles of potential murderers and bodysnatchers – violators of the humanity and bodily integrity of white people, apparently – to (amateur) scientists. The revelation says much about the cultural authority that sciences were accruing to themselves and more about their racialised assumptions and practices in 19th-century Australia – Aborigines, as a race dying out, as the missing evolutionary link, are proper objects of study – that fictions had a part in imagining and consolidating. The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre is now negotiating the return of Indigenous skulls ‘discovered’ in Vienna’s Museum of Natural History to Tasmania and the Northern Territory, and institutions such as the Manchester Museum in England only recently agreed with the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action to repatriate its colonial collection of Indigenous skulls. In the knowledge of such moves, it is almost impossible to read the story in the light-hearted manner in which it seems to have been intended, and was most likely read. The colonial 19th century has arguably not come in Australia to a neat reconciliation or conclusion, as Liston’s story promises, and its legacies continue to be grappled with today. 93 Ellen Liston, ‘My Neighbour’s Mystery’, in Fiona Giles (ed.), From the Verandah: Stories of Love and Landscape by Nineteenth-Century Australian Women, McPhee Gribble, 1987 [1869], pp. 48, 49, 46, 48. 94 Ibid., p. 49.



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Knowledge was never a matter of geography. Quite the reverse, it overflows all maps that exist. Patrick White, Voss

It is a clich´e of intellectual history that the United States is a product of Enlightenment optimism. ‘Next to the introduction of Christianity among mankind,’ the contemporary English commentator Richard Price argued, ‘the American revolution may prove the most important step in the progressive cause of human improvement.’1 It was on the basis of a tradition of such commentary that Leslie Fiedler wrote 180 years later: ‘Insofar as America is legendary, a fact of the imagination as well as one of history, it has been shaped by the ideals of the Age of Reason.’2 By contrast, Australia came into being at the end of a century of intellectual pessimism inaugurated by the counter-revolution we call Romanticism: a counter-revolution with which in substantial measure we are still coming to terms. ‘We hold these Truths to be self-evident,’ Thomas Jefferson and his co-authors of the Declaration of Independence wrote in 1776, ‘that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’. When the Commonwealth of Australia came into being on New Year’s Day, 1901, very few truths were self-evident any more; this included the core truth of Australians’ ideological choice between ‘The Land that belongs to the Lord and the Queen’ (as Henry Lawson put it in ‘A Song of the Republic’, 1887) ‘And the Land that belongs to you.’ As far as the world at large was concerned, moreover, the set of ideas by means of which the Western mind had organised its affairs since the Renaissance seemed to have corroded irretrievably in the hands of thinkers like Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. Indeed, such thinkers had wholly reconceptualised what the ‘unalienable’ elements in humanity might be. It is another clich´e of intellectual history that neither America nor Australia took a major part in the Romantic rejection of Enlightenment optimism. The United States is 1 Richard Price, Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution, and the Means of Making it a Benefit to the World (1785), p. 6. 2 Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, rev. edn, 1966; Penguin, 1982, p. 36.


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fundamentally a Lockean project, as Fiedler reminds us, and neither it nor New South Wales was in a position to assist that group of (primarily) German and English writerintellectuals that sought to demolish 18th-century confidence in reason, secularism, and the spread of knowledge. Both places missed the boat, it seems, or contributed to Romanticism only belatedly, after the major works had been carried out in Europe. Broadly speaking this is true. The years 1788 to 1860 are as good as any others to date the Romantic era, but Robert Dixon provides plenty of evidence to suggest we should equate that very timeframe with the dominance of neoclassicism in Australia.3 ‘The Romantic period proper seems to have missed Australian poetry altogether’, write Richard Jordan and Peter Pierce. In his 1981 survey of Australian poetry Vivian Smith, too, elides the Romantic movement. ‘There is much to engross the 18th-century specialist in the work of the first verse writers,’ he remarks, ‘much to engage the reader of Victorian poetry and the student of Victorian and colonial attitudes in the work of Harpur, Kendall and Gordon; who represent particular phases of colonial and Victorian feeling.’4 Where the Antipodes are concerned, the long 18th century kissed fingers with the long 19th century, leaving nothing in between. ‘Historically, it was as if Australia was some Rip Van Winkle’, as Paul Kane neatly puts it, ‘who fell asleep as a neo-classicist and awoke as a Victorian.’5 Dixon explains this non-appearance of the Romantic revolution in terms of an intervening imperialist ideology (‘the course of empire’ envisioned in certain canonical notions of progress derived from the Scottish Enlightenment of Ferguson, Millar, and Robinson) that drove out or smothered latent tendencies to Romanticism. (Certainly, the grovelling poet-laureate of Macquarie’s colony, Michael Massey Robinson, speaks in his ‘Ode for the Queen’s Birthday 1816’ of ‘maturing REASON’S dawning ray’ and ‘Wisdom’s scientific Lore’ spreading ‘from Shore to Shore’ and displacing pagan darkness as it went, even in New Holland: ‘Hope cheered the Dawn, and led the Course to Fame!’ These are not very Romantic attitudes.) Kane makes the also reasonable point that ‘Throughout the high romantic period, there were more convicts in Australia than any other group’: hardly a promising seedbed, he suggests, for Romantic aspirations ‘to more expansive modes of being.’6 But reservations need to be entertained about a view of the Romantic movement based wholly in expansiveness. In part and at times it did indeed impatiently seek freedom; but then so did the Enlightenment. What characterises Romanticism more profoundly, I feel, is its growing recognition that expansive modes of being (self-evident truths like equality,

3 Robert Dixon, The Course of Empire: Neo-Classical Culture in New South Wales, 1788–1860, OUP, 1968. 4 Richard Jordan and Peter Pierce (eds), The Poet’s Discovery: Nineteenth-Century Australia in Verse, MUP, 1990, p. 2; Vivian Smith, ‘Poetry’, in Leonie Kramer (ed.), The Oxford History of Australian Literature, OUP, 1981, p. 274. 5 Paul Kane, Australian Poetry: Romanticism and Negativity, CUP, 1996, p. 10. Kane’s monograph is much the most sophisticated treatment of romanticism’s paradoxical influence on Australian poetry; the approach I take in this chapter is broader, less literary-critical, and more historical. 6 Ibid., p. 15.


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for example) were difficult to achieve in the world it felt it had to confront – a world vastly more complicated than the practically feudal one confronted by the philosophes. Romanticism loved freedom, but it loved truth more; it released Shelleyan skylarks, certainly, but it watched many of them return to earth with a thud.

The Romantic Antipodes I said that neither America nor Australia contributed directly and first-hand to the Romantic counter-revolution, and that both places generally felt the influence of the movement by means of intellectual dispersal and delay. But both places in time and in turn made cultural mileage out of two Romantic ideas in particular: landscape and its Indigenous inhabitants. From the earliest days, Australia provided Romantic sensations as well as neoclassical ones where these categories were concerned. Here is the French explorer Bruni D’Entrecasteaux at Recherche Bay, Tasmania, in January 1793: It will be difficult to describe my feelings at the sight of this solitary harbour situated at the extremities of the globe, so perfectly enclosed that one feels separated from the rest of the universe. Everything is influenced by the wilderness of the rugged landscape. With each step, one encounters the beauties of unspoilt nature, with signs of decrepitude; trees reaching a very great height, and of a corresponding diameter, are devoid of branches along the trunk, but crowned with an everlasting green foliage. Some of these trees seem as ancient as the world, and are so tightly interlaced that they are impenetrable.7

D’Entrecasteaux voices a peculiarly Romantic paradox about nature: that it speaks to and is a part of us, deeply and ineluctably, yet that it is a separate and uncaring system, too. (‘We receive but what we give’, as Coleridge had put it in the ‘Dejection’ ode: hardly a comforting or expansive interpretation of the natural world.) Under the circumstances of isolation and desolation at Recherche Bay, nature produced diverse feelings for D’Entrecasteaux, accordingly: vague (‘difficult to describe’), specific (solitude, perfect enclosure, separation), and powerful (‘Everything is influenced’). But despite the emotional power it wields over those who respond to it, nature remains awesomely distant and separate, in its mystery (unspoiled yet decrepit, branchless yet crowned with foliage), its antiquity (‘ancient as the world’), and its aloof integrity (‘so tightly interlaced that they are impenetrable’). To be perfectly enclosed in something utterly unspoiled is immensely desirable, but it comes at the price of pure isolation. Another French explorer who registered this proto-Romantic feeling of trespassing on a fragile and uneasy idyll was Franc¸ois P´eron, at King Island in December 1802, witnessing the destruction of its elephant seal population: 7 Bruni D’Entrecasteaux, Voyage to Australia and the Pacific, 1791–1793, trans. Edward Duyker and Maryse Duyker, MUP, 2001, p. 32.


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Until now, the animals of which we are speaking, guided by some wise instinct, have known how to conceal themselves from the wrath of the human race. Far from the regions in which it dwells, secluded on wild and lonely islands, these great seals were able, without enemies or fears, to outdo each other in multiplying and growing. Henceforth everything is changed for them; and if it was formerly possible for them to find protection from the voracity of the inhabitants of these climes, they will not now escape the mercantile greed which appears to have sworn the annihilation of their race. Indeed, the English have invaded these retreats, which for so long protected them; they have organised massacres everywhere, which cannot fail shortly to cause a noticeable and irreparable reduction to the population of these animals.8

The world of nature is one of wise instinct, incomprehensible to humanity, seeking shelter from destruction at the extremities of the globe. The unfortunate elephant seal is, from the Romantic point of view, a sentimental object safe only when it is enclosed both in space (‘wild and lonely islands’) and in time (‘Until now’; ‘Henceforth’). Moreover, the human race (or ‘the English’ in this case) is no casual exterminator but a guilty species, intent – ‘sworn . . . invaded . . . organised’ – on violent eradication. There is a significant proportion of Romantic nostalgia for lost perfection and dread of human destructiveness in both D’Entrecasteaux and P´eron. But what if the wild and lonely island of Australia, instead of being a scene of destruction, became one of redemption? And what if the species concerned was not the old-growth forest or the elephant seal, but erring, fallen humanity, cast up on its shores in the form of British convicts? The first of Robert Southey’s Botany-Bay Eclogues, written at Oxford in 1794,9 is the story of Elinor, a convict in ‘The livery of shame’ and ‘at the farthest limits of the world’ who reflects on her youth: Ah! little thinking I myself was doom’d To tempt the perils of the boundless deep, An outcast, unbeloved and unbewail’d.

Though ‘The fields of England’ are ‘still present’ to Elinor’s ‘exiled eyes’ she understands her new environment to be a fitting one: Welcome, ye savage lands, ye barbarous climes, Where angry England sends her outcast sons, I hail your joyless shores! My weary bark, Long tempest-tost on Life’s inclement sea, Here hails her haven; welcomes the drear scene, The marshy plain, the briar-entangled wood, And all the perils of a world unknown. For Elinor has nothing new to fear From cruel Fortune; all her rankling shafts 8 Franc¸ois P´eron, Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Lands, 2 vols, trans. Christine Cornell, Friends of the State Library of South Australia, 2003–6, vol. ii, p. 40. 9 Robert Southey, Poetical Works, 10 vols, Longman, 1837–8, vol. ii, pp. 71–4.


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Barb’d with disgrace, and venom’d with disease, Have pierced my bosom, and the dart of death Has lost its terrors to a wretch like me.

This daughter of Cain is ‘doom’d’ either by inheritance or character, for part of the pessimistic nature of Romanticism is its stress on determinism. She half makes, half reflects the wilderness she sees around her: Welcome ye marshy heaths, ye pathless woods, Where the rude native rests his wearied frame Beneath the sheltering shade; where, when the storm Benumbs his naked limbs, he flies to seek The dripping shelter. Welcome, ye wild plains Unbroken by the plough, undelved by hand Of patient rustic; where for lowing herds, And for the music of the bleating flocks, Alone is heard the kangaroo’s sad note, Deepening in distance.

‘Welcome wilderness’, Elinor concludes: ‘Nature’s domain!’ Southey’s poem is a portentous intellectual combination of Romantic guilt and ecological sensitivity: it seems that only when moral agents themselves are exiled can they see or imagine the environment in its pristine state, before human intervention (‘Unbroken by the plough, undelved by hand’). The lowing herds and bleating flocks of Augustan pastoral (‘where Industry’s encourag’d Hand’, as Robinson put it in his ode for Queen Charlotte, ‘Has chang’d the lurid Aspect of the Land’) have been left behind at home, replaced by an altogether more dismal and forlorn landscape.

Explorers It is fitting that in Elinor’s savage and barbarous place of exile the ‘rude native’ is even more unhoused than she herself. She has fallen from grace with civilisation, but he has never known it, and the ‘sheltering shade’ and ‘dripping shelter’ are all that protect him from the sun and the rain. This is not that man fresh from the gods described in Montaigne’s ‘On the Cannibals’, or the inhabitant of the negative Utopia spoken of in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, or Rousseau’s child of nature from the Discourse on Inequality, roaming free and solitary in the woods before the reign of iron and corn. Nothing and no-one parents the child of nature at Botany Bay. On the contrary, the savage of Romantic literature is generally ignoble, either in the sense of being wicked and resolutely godless or in the sense we find in Southey here, of being simply pitiful. In time writers in Australia would make a kind of compromised return to the noble savage myth, but one which evicted for all time the fancies of Enlightenment speculation. In that process the most fascinating meeting-places of post-Enlightenment belief and Australian reality are not in the colony’s imaginative writers, but rather in the accounts


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left by the country’s (new) explorers whose spirit and attitudes are worth analysis in the context of Romanticism. Not that 19th-century explorers of Australia could be called Romantics as such, still less poets of Southey’s stripe – or even ‘poetic’ souls of P´eron’s variety. Most were either military officers (like Oxley, Sturt, and Mitchell) or men of science (like Leichhardt). But whether they willed it or whether they knew it, their responses sometimes betrayed attitudes that were new to the region, and very different from those of, say, a Joseph Banks. Born in Prussia in 1813 and widely educated in Europe, Ludwig Leichhardt certainly had a potentially Romantic pedigree, but like most Australian explorers of the first half of the 19th century he generally subordinated the lyrical impulses he felt to the task in hand. His journals show him to be by turns a dreamer, a stargazer, and an animal-lover,10 and certainly he is more candid than most about his feelings. ‘How often have I found myself ’, he wrote, ‘in these different states of the brightest hope and the deepest misery, riding along, thirsty, almost lifeless and ready to drop from my saddle with fatigue.’ But, contrary to our general understanding of the sources of Romantic feeling – an understanding that is sometimes loose – such moments of introspective emotional affect are less significant than what is elicited from him by contact with other people, Aboriginal people: ‘our sable friends’ as he called them (whether sardonically or sincerely, it is hard to tell).11 There is the compromised noble savagery of the austere life, for example, which he and his fellow travellers experience on their travels: The state of our health shewed how congenial the climate was to the human constitution; for, without the comforts which the civilized man thinks essentially necessary to life . . . we were yet all in health; although at times suffering much from weakness and fatigue. At night we stretched ourselves on the ground, almost as naked as the natives, and though most of my companions still used their tents, it was amply proved afterwards that the want of this luxury was attended with no ill consequences. [p. 299]

But there are also morally richer acts of interpersonal assessment: I had not . . . the slightest fear and apprehension of any treachery on the part of the natives; for my frequent intercourse with the natives of Australia had taught me to distinguish easily between the smooth tongue of deceit, with which they try to ensnare their victim, and the open expression of kind and friendly feelings, or those of confidence and respect. I remember several instances of the most cold-blooded smooth-tongued treachery, and of the most extraordinary gullibility of the natives; but I am sure that a careful observer is more than a match for these simple children of nature, and that he can easily read the bad intention in their unsteady, greedy, glistening eyes. [pp. 506–7]

A passage like this shows Leichhardt well on the road to a post-Enlightenment response, and therefore well on the road to a Romantic one. It is couched in the terms of European 10 See Ludwig Leichhardt, Journal of an Overland Expedition in Australia, from Moreton Bay to Port Essington . . . During the Years 1844–1845, Boone, 1847, pp. 265–6, 280–1, 438–9. 11 Ibid., pp. 267, 503.


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superiority, needless to say, but his comment is by no means simplistic, for these people are most emphatically not the children of nature whom Rousseau dreamed of finding among the Caribs, and their intentions must quite positively be read, in their eyes. Leichhardt presents himself as a supremely confident interpreter and is condescending, accordingly, it is true; but these are fellow human beings that he is interpreting, not noble savages or other alien species of that kind. In any event, these are not simple people superannuated by the course of empire. Leichhardt has a more significant passage even than this last; one that most modern readers would pass over without comment. (Our tendency to do so in fact confirms that we are still living within a Romantic consciousness: one that most significantly takes certain things for granted when one person writes about another.) At one point on his travels, Leichhardt’s party came across a solitary Aboriginal woman: Whilst riding along the bank of the river, we saw an old woman before us, walking slowly and thoughtfully through the forest, supporting her slender and apparently exhausted frame with one of those long sticks which the women use for digging roots; a child was running before her. Fearing she would be much alarmed if we came too suddenly upon her . . . I cooeed gently; after repeating the call two or three times, she turned her head; in sudden fright she lifted her arms, and began to beat the air, as if to take wing, – then seizing the child, and shrieking most pitifully, she rapidly crossed the creek, and escaped to the opposite ridges. What could she think, but that we were some of those imaginary beings, with legends of which the wise men of her people frighten the children into obedience, and whose strange forms and stranger doings are the favourite topics of conversation amongst the natives at night when seated round their fires? [pp. 190–1]

There is no need to prove that Leichhardt had read any of Wordsworth’s many poems of encounter with such people (‘The Old Man Travelling’, for example) before writing this. The nature of the encounter is Romantic by virtue of the pattern of response – not of the woman to the explorer, but of the explorer to the woman. The scene is iconic in its very inception: an old woman walking, with a child running before her like an image of impatient youth under the tutelage of old age. Leichhardt twice supplements a denotative expression with a connotative one: ‘slowly’ with ‘thoughtfully’, ‘slender’ with ‘apparently exhausted’. Abruptly the white men’s act of interruption – which they strive to soften by the only means at hand: cooeeing – turns the woman into an emblem of fragility and flight; and just as abruptly the explorer’s thoughts seek out what he imagines to be her own (‘shrieking most pitifully’), and seek out their origin in the culture from which (he imagines) she comes. There is no need to make exorbitant claims of or for cultural equality in such a paragraph: for Leichhardt the elders of her tribe are as inferior to the Westerner as the elderly woman is inferior to them and as the child is inferior to her. But she has forced him to see what he looks like to her and her people (‘strange forms and stranger doings’), and no ‘rude native’ of Southey’s imagination could have done that.


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Edward John Eyre, too, came across a Wordsworthian solitary on his travels, male this time instead of female: ‘a poor emaciated native,’ he records, ‘entirely alone, without either food or fire, and evidently left by his tribe to perish there’. ‘He seemed almost unconscious of our presence, and stared upon us with a vacant unmeaning gaze . . . the probability is that he died a very few hours after we left him.’12 Like Leichhardt, Eyre cannot stop himself treating the man as an individual, however much his scientific and philosophical impulses intervene: Such is the fate of the aged and helpless in savage life, nor can we wonder that it should be so, since self-preservation is the first law of nature, and the wandering native who has to travel always over a great extent of ground to seek for his daily food, could not obtain enough to support his existence, if obliged to remain with the old and the sick, or if impeded by the incumbrance of carrying them with him; still I felt grieved for the poor old man we had left behind us, and it was long before I could drive away his image from my mind, or repress the melancholy train of thoughts that the circumstance had called forth. [p. 41]

This is a minor instance of the course of empire, and the nomadic way of life being encountered by the civilised one, exactly as the Scottish Enlightenment predicted. ‘Still I felt grieved’, Eyre says – rather than reassured, that is; and he found himself, like Wordsworth (a fellow virtuoso in using the word ‘still’), unable either to drive away the dying indigene or repress the melancholy set of reflections the old man set in motion. It seems that a law of nature of the kind the Enlightenment was tremendously set on revealing tells only half the truth of such an encounter, and that pathos and empathy are more than a match for rationalism and objectivity. Contrary to expectation the individual resists classification, and the witness finds his map of humankind unreliable accordingly. Eyre found this dying remnant of his tribe on his way north out of Adelaide, en route to the great saline lake that bears his name. Driven back from there, and before undertaking his spectral journey to the west along the shore of the Great Australian Bight, Eyre recuperated on the South Australian peninsula which also bears his name, and heard of an awful event: the spearing murder of a local twelve-year-old settler child, alone at home, by a group of Aborigines. Now all his latent sympathies are manifested: for the dead boy, certainly, but also and more significantly for the perpetrators of the crime. Like Leichhardt, Eyre cannot stop pursuing the nature of reality into the mentalities and attitudes of these apparently morally opaque people. In doing so he makes a set of points each and any of which were fundamentally inaccessible to neoclassical forms of cultural thinking. ‘Our being in their country at all’, he says, first and foremost, is ‘altogether an act of intrusion and aggression’ as far as Aborigines are concerned (as opposed to a variety of cultural inevitability, for example, 12 Edward John Eyre, Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia . . . in the Years 1840–1, 2 vols, Boone, 1845, vol. i, p. 41.


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predicted and legitimated by the course of empire). Europeans’ motives for coming are incomprehensible to the Indigenous peoples, and therefore suspect; ‘presence and settlement . . . do, in fact, actually dispossess the aboriginal inhabitants’; and Europeans not only seize Aboriginal land but settle ‘the best and most valuable portion of it’, so not merely moving Indigenous peoples from habitual places of visitation but therefore and in fact breaking up the pattern of their way of life at the profoundest level. From these initial points – in themselves a kind of indictment – come others, where Eyre’s focus switches to the Westerners themselves. ‘We ourselves have laws, customs, or prejudices, to which we attach considerable importance’, he notes; ‘so have the natives theirs, equally, perhaps, dear to them’. In other words, not only do all peoples have observances and ordinances, but some of those laws subsist alongside or indeed are made up of ‘prejudices’, made ‘dear’ on emotional grounds rather than legalistic ones. This amounts to a form of Romantic relativism, where what one believes matters less for its truth than for the amount one invests in it. There is no Enlightenment scale of civilisation here, or ‘maturing REASON’S dawning ray’ adjudicating between that in which the Aborigines place their sense of justice and that in which Europeans do. Finally, Eyre remarks, there is the entire theatre of contact between those settlers ‘who have placed themselves on the outskirts of civilization’ and who are therefore free from both the protection and the restraint of European law, and those whose customs are so trespassed upon: a theatre of suspicion, fear, violence, and bloodshed that itself takes a hand in events – there is no blank slate or neutral environment at the settling fringe.13 Even a decent settler will, by dispossession, drive those he has dispossessed to extremities: Nor ought we to wonder, that a slight insult, or a trifling injury, should sometimes hurry them to an act apparently not warranted by the provocation. Who can tell how long their feelings had been rankling in their bosoms; how long, or how much they had borne; a single drop will make the cup run over, when filled up to the brim; a single spark will ignite the mine, that, by its explosion, will scatter destruction around it; and may not one foolish indiscretion, one thoughtless act of contumely or wrong, arouse to vengeance the passions that have long been burning, though concealed? With the same dispositions and tempers as ourselves, they are subject to the same impulses and infirmities. Little accustomed to restrain their feelings, it is natural, that when goaded beyond endurance, the effect should be violent, and fatal to those who roused them; – the smothered fire but bursts out the stronger from having been pent up; and the rankling passions are but fanned into wilder fury, from having been repressed. [pp. 172–3]

Here we can see Enlightenment universalism (‘the same dispositions and tempers as ourselves’, as James Cook himself might have said) shifting into the fundamentally individualistic moral psychology of Romanticism, to the effect that anything ‘smothered’, 13 Ibid., pp. 167, 168, 169.


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‘pent up’ or ‘repressed’ is doubly dangerous by virtue of being so. (‘Better murder an infant in its cradle’, William Blake said, ‘than nurse an unacted desire’, and Byron’s doge Faliero makes the connected point, voiced by Eyre himself as a Romantic clich´e, that ‘’tis the last drop / Which makes the cup run o’er, and mine was full / Already’.) This moral-psychological individualism has implications for ideas of natural justice, too, and in hindsight we can recognise in Eyre’s discussion the extent to which both Enlightenment universalism and Romantic sentiment have contributed to the post-colonial guilt in modern Australia that he anticipates. For no apparent reason, Eyre’s discussion of the Port Lincoln murder is accompanied by a picture of ‘Native Graves’. Such pictures and related verbal descriptions punctuated European accounts of Australia from the earliest days, and are found in narratives by P´eron, Flinders, and Sturt as well as Eyre. Major Thomas Mitchell also made a habit of visiting Aboriginal cemeteries. Sometimes such places are for him ones where nature has reclaimed its own in an act of recuperative sympathy: Each stood in the centre of an artificial hollow, the mound or tomb in the middle being about five feet high; and on each of them were piled numerous withered branches and limbs of trees, no inappropriate emblem of mortality. I could scarcely doubt that these tombs covered the remains of that portion of the tribe swept off by the fell disease which had left such marks on all who survived. There were no trees on this hill, save one quite dead, which seemed to point, with its hoary arms, like a spectre to the tombs. A melancholy waste, where a level country and boundless woods extended beyond the reach of vision, was in perfect harmony with the dreary foreground of the scene.14

This is one kind of fittingness, highly Romantic to our post-Wordsworthian eyes. Another, more ‘civilised’ form of interment is recorded elsewhere: It was extensive, and laid out in walks, which were narrow and smooth, as if intended only for ‘sprites;’ and they meandered in gracefully curved lines, among the heaps of reddish earth, which contrasted finely with the acacias and dark casuarinæ around. Others gilt with moss shot far into the recesses of the bush, where slight traces of still more ancient graves proved the antiquity of these simple but touching records of humanity. With all our art, we could do no more for the dead than these poor savages had done. [p. 321]

Here the ideal clearly remains neoclassical – more Gray’s country churchyard than Wordsworth’s thorn, more Andr´e Le Nˆotre than Capability Brown, more lawn cemetery than blasted heath. Nature itself is ‘laid out’ in gracefully curved lines, and is organised into elegantly meaningful contrasts of light and shade, culture and nature. The universalism is almost pure here: with all our art we could do no more, and there is 14 T. L. Mitchell, Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia, 2 vols, 2nd edn, Boone, 1839, vol. i, p. 262; ‘These natives . . . bore strong marks of the small-pox, or some such disease, which appeared to have been very destructive among them’, p. 261.


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no difference between the intrepid explorer and the ‘rude native’, the churchyard and the burying ground. But a bleakly Romantic and progressivist (as opposed to Rousseauesque and primitivist) moral underlies Leichhardt’s old woman, Eyre’s dying man, and Mitchell’s graves. Early 19th-century Europeans are fascinated by senescence and mortality because they are sure the Aborigines are dying out. In his great cycle of American settlement, Fenimore Cooper’s Mohicans are heroic because they are the last and because they, unlike their rivals the Iroquois, will not trade that heroic status for political advantage among the Europeans squabbling over their land. In what he called Australia Felix – essentially, inland western Victoria – Mitchell was sure he had come across ‘the Australian Hesperides’: but with what impact? A land so inviting, and still without inhabitants! As I stood, the first European intruder on the sublime solitude of these verdant plains, as yet untouched by flocks or herds; I felt conscious of being the harbinger of mighty changes; and that our steps would soon be followed by the men and the animals for which it seemed to have been prepared.15

The Indigenous occupants are written out of the story so completely as not even to be speculated about. An intruder Mitchell might be, but these lands, like those of milk and honey from which the tribes of Israel ejected the Canaanites, have been ‘prepared’ for his kind and their cloven-hoofed followers, not for the Aborigine. In his northern exploration out from Brisbane, Mitchell rediscovered Southey’s ‘rude native’ of 1794: ‘Two old grey-haired men sitting silent in a gunya behind . . . sat doubled upon their hams opposite to each other, under the withered bushes, naked, and grey, and melancholy – sad and hopeless types of their fading race!’16 Mitchell’s position is fundamentally a confused one, in common with many of his time. The noble savage of the 18th century still exists, but now he is as deterministically doomed as Southey’s Elinor. ‘Such health and exemption from disease; such intensity of existence’, Mitchell rhapsodised, with a quintessentially noble savage pacing in front of him, ‘must be far beyond the enjoyments of civilised men, with all that art can do for them; and the proof of this is to be found in the failure of all attempts to persuade these free denizens of uncultivated earth to forsake it for the tilled ground.’17 But an irreversible fate is at work: ‘The only kindness we could do for them, would be to let them and their wide range of territory alone; to act otherwise and profess good-will is but hypocrisy’; the fate of the Aborigine, in fact, is ‘that which took place on man’s fall and expulsion from Eden’ (65–6). That is what makes him a Romantic savage, because he is at once the first man all over again, driven out by the Anglo-Saxon serpent, and 15 Ibid., vol. ii, pp. 127, 159. 16 T. L. Mitchell, Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia in Search of a Route from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria, Longman, 1848, 30. 17 Ibid., p. 65. This is the noble savage of W. C. Wentworth’s ‘Australasia’ of 1823: ‘Unshackled wanderers, enthusiasts free / Pure native sons of savage liberty’, and so on.


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the last man of his race, left to look at a dying fire and an empty landscape as his world is taken from him.

Buvelˆot and Clarke We left the Australian landscape in the hands of an imaginist like Southey, safely ensconced at Balliol College, Oxford, describing ‘The marshy plain and briar-entangled wood’ of New South Wales with ‘the kangaroo’s sad note’ ringing in his ignorant ear. For Southey, as for many early Romantics, Australia figured as a kind of fresh start for the guilt-ridden wanderer, as Tahiti was imagined to be for Fletcher Christian and his Bounty mutineers. To jump forward many years to the 1870s is to leave that myth behind, naturally enough, and to replace it with the deeper human associations incurred by settlement, though still coloured by the wishes and the expectations of the new arrivals. A reflection-cum-evocation of these associations emerged with particular power in a short essay Marcus Clarke wrote to accompany a photograph of a colonial painting in the National Gallery of Victoria: Louis Buvelˆot’s ‘Waterpool Near Coleraine’. The essay is a legend in the Australian legend because it was the source for Clarke’s preface to Adam Lindsay Gordon’s collection of poems, Sea Spray and Smoke Drift (1867), where Clarke boldly claimed that ‘the dominant note of Australian scenery’ was precisely the ‘dominant note of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry – Weird Melancholy’.18 ‘The Australian mountain forests’, Clarke continued, in quintessentially Romantic terms, ‘are funereal, secret, stern. Their solitude is desolation. They seem to stifle, in their black gorges, a story of sullen despair.’ It is in the Gordon preface that most readers encounter this famous formulation, but it was Buvelˆot’s painting that put it in motion, as Clarke meditated on the changes predicted and categorised by the Scottish Enlightenment and the course of empire, revealed in one particular locality: how an area in the far west of Mitchell’s Australia Felix passed from the ‘shepherd pioneers of our new civilization’ to ‘the agriculturalist and farmer’ of more recent times.19 But again and most interestingly the course of empire and the neoclassical sequence of settlement (hunter-gatherer, nomad, pastoralist, industrialist) is now itself in retrospect a source of Romantic sentiment. ‘The scene’, Clarke wrote, ‘is a little valley, shut in by the upreaching stretches of the downs’: A waterpool in the foreground reflects the deeper tints of the upper sky, and from either bank rise into intermingling bewilderment of branches, the reft and splintered trunks of two ancient gum trees. A little herd of cattle rest lazily on the verge of the clearing, and 18 Michael Wilding (ed.), Portable Australian Authors: Marcus Clarke, UQP, 1976, p. 645. 19 Marcus Clarke, ‘Waterpool Near Coleraine’, in Bernard Smith (ed.), Documents on Art and Taste in Australia: The Colonial Period, 1770–1914, OUP, 1975, pp. 133–6.


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some horses are approaching from the distant timber belt. On the margin of the pool a few ducks, the property of the new lord of the soil, preen their plumage; the axe of the settler rests against a hollow log; and the well trodden path to the water would seem to lead to a home at a little distance. But all the accessories of the scene are subordinated to the prevailing sense of quiet. All is hot, silent, still, and dreamy. The mopokes have not yet begun their wild chattering cries. The air is heavy with the intense hush of the last instant of a dying Australian summer’s day, and the old gum trees stand alone with motionless branches and folded leaves beside the solitary pool.

The pathos of pessimism, retrospect, and Romantic revenance creeps like ivy over reassuring signs of life, settlement, and industry. Mere laziness becomes heavy, and a mere ‘sense of quiet’ gives way to the ‘intense hush’ of a ‘dying . . . day’, around the graveside of which the gum trees stand still, leaves reverently folded. Buvelˆot has ‘selected a subject which at once touches that sense of the poetic which dwells in awakened memories and suggested contrasts of past with present’, and it is a remark like this that takes us to the source of Clarke’s fascination, which is surely Wordsworth once again. Wordsworth has a famous pool beneath a ‘melancholy beacon’ in the 12th book of the 1850 Prelude, but that is emphatically ‘naked’ and unsettled; Clarke’s is not a literary allusion properly so called, but a vision of Australia through temporarily borrowed eyes, eyes for which the landscape is necessarily a paysage moralis´e by virtue of the human life that is in it, which the witness has perceived in terms of its impact upon nature and vice versa. As so often in Wordsworth, that which is human is suggested indirectly in Buvelˆot, by the tools, instruments, pathways, and beasts that humanity converts to its use, expressing the power and the fragility of the settler instinct in one blow. As so often, also, the least animated of the living things before us are the most articulate: in this case the two gaunt giants whose roots are in the pool, bewildered and bewildering alike. ‘Sheer force of association at such time’, Clarke suggests, ‘brings to mind many melancholy imaginings of scenes of bygone happiness and unthinking enjoyment of present good, which were all-potent realities to the forgotten folk who once lived out their little lives beneath the shade of the still living witness of their hopes and their decay.’ The overwhelming note is of mortality, and the day when this particular ‘lord of the soil’ will fail to return to collect his axe. Clarke guides his readers unfailingly to the colonial and post-colonial paradox of Australia, noted on many occasions (not least by A. D. Hope in his poem ‘Australia’): that by comparison with ‘historic England’ Australia must seem a ‘Land of the Dawning’, but that in fact it is infinitely older : The lonely horseman riding between the moonlight and the day, sees vast shadows creeping across the desolate and silent plains, hears strange noises in the primæval forests, where flourishes a vegetation long dead in other lands, and feels, despite his fortune, that the trim utilitarian civilization which bred him, shrinks into insignificance beside the contemptuous grandeur of forests and ranges coeval with an age where European scientists have cradled his own race.


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Still, the primeval only exists on sufferance, in the corner of the European eye when that eye is alone amidst it, as is the case with the benighted horseman. In Australia the primeval is perforce ‘the Grotesque, the Weird, – the strange scribblings of Nature learning how to write’: ‘the beauty of loneliness’, ‘uncouth’, hieroglyphic, ‘haggard’, and ‘distorted’. The trim utilitarian civilisation deriving from England and dwarfed by the bush remains powerful enough, destructive enough, to have driven ‘the wandering aboriginal, the solitary shepherd [and] the travelling stockman’ away alike, and taken the waterways into sole ownership. ‘The time-worn gums shadowing the melancholy water tinged with the light of a fast-dying day’, Clarke concludes, seem fit emblems of the departed grandeur of the wilderness, and may appear to poetic fancy to uprear in the still evening a monument to the glories of that barbaric empire upon whose ruins the ever-restless European has founded his new kingdom. Glorified for a last instant by the warm rays of the sinking sun, the lonely trees droop and shiver as though in expectation of the chill night which will soon fall alike on the land they have surveyed so long and the memory of the savage people who once possessed it.

So much for the course of empires.

Three Romantic poets Thus far I have concentrated on prose examples of Australian Romantic consciousness, or dawning consciousness. (Prosaic in form, but not in content, I hope.) And it has been England’s most prosaic poet, Wordsworth, who has been the presiding genius of Australian Romanticism, accordingly. But as a significant part of its rejection of Enlightenment rationalism, what Clarke called ‘poetic fancy’ is the ultimate form of Romantic expression, and in due course, naturally enough, Australian writers made use of it. Three Australian poets in particular have been seen in these terms, I think rightly: Charles Harpur, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall. All three display Romantic – or ‘Romantic’ – characteristics in their lives as well as their works. All died younger than they should have (Kendall of that most Romantic of all diseases, tuberculosis); all led lives marked by tragedy (the loss of children in the cases of Harpur and Gordon); none made much money or received much popular acclaim (Kendall was an alcoholic; Gordon, a suicide). As writers, all were prolific to the point of prolixity, as many of their English forebears were. Like the English Romantics, too, they were formally inquisitive. We rightly associate Gordon with Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes, for example, but he also wrote a poetic drama, Ashtaroth, the hero of which, inevitably, is called Hugo. Harpur wrote satires and epigrams as well as abbreviated epics like ‘The Kangaroo Hunt’ and The Witch of Hebron (‘A Rabbinical Legend’; see Chapter 4). Kendall is associated with sensitive lyrics like ‘The Last of His Tribe’ (a powerful instance of the dying Aborigine theme, noted above), but he also wrote the viciously ungenerous ‘Peter the Piccaninny’, a satire on Aboriginality and Wordsworth alike. But all three found their


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true metiers in the same places the English Romantics did, by and large: in the lyric (sometimes of ode-length) and the narrative poem, both of which are inherently alien to the Augustan poetic perspectives of Alexander Pope or Samuel Johnson. In content as well as form, Harpur, Gordon, and Kendall display Romantic and antiEnlightenment features. The lyric’s foundation lies in the cult of spontaneity, of the grasped impression or wavering mood, rather than in heavy-duty, prefabricated intellectual reflections on the state of mankind (the vanity of human wishes, for example). Its basis is inevitably personal, to the point of solipsism, and, as we have seen in Clarke’s lyric prose on ‘The Waterpool Near Coleraine’, the mood is often that of nostalgia – a feeling hardly considered worth recording in the Enlightenment. But the Romantic lyric can be ironic, also, in an idiom unanticipated by Augustan thought and feeling. In ‘To My Sister’, for example, Gordon knowingly adapts Byron’s lachrymose poems on his exile to his own Australian emigration, aged 19: Sister, farewell! farewell once more To every youthful tie! Friends! parents! kinsmen! native shore! To each and all goodbye!

(And so on and so forth, a` la ‘Childe Harold’s Good Night’.) The Romantic narrative poem, similarly, bears no relation to the Popean epistle: it is unique, singular, and wholly resistant to generalisation or intellectual summary. The narrator is compelled to speak, the auditor compelled to listen, not out of intellectual recognition but out of emotional sympathy. Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is the most famous instance. The story of Australia, such poets believe, is best told not in course-of-empire style stereoscopic summaries of the kind provided by Michael Massey Robinson or W. C. Wentworth (though, to be fair, Kendall wrote a sentimentalised version of such productions in his prize-winning puff, ‘The Sydney International Exhibition’), but in any number of ‘real’ tales – yarns, as Australians were already coming to call them – derived from authentic Australian conditions and shedding light on the Australian character in both landscape and people. Harpur, in particular, offered up many such narratives, simple but dramatically effective because of their flattened perspective and close-up depiction. ‘The Creek of the Four Graves’ is the best known and most brilliant: a tale of ignoble savagery if ever there was one, but balanced by its sister-poem, ‘The Spectre of the Cattle Flat’, where a white man’s treachery receives its just desert. In such stories that highly Romantic quality, the sense of place, is a key ingredient, just as it was for Byron’s ‘Turkish Tales’ and Wordsworth’s ballads and tales of northern rural life. The three great Australian Romantic poets are examined in detail by Vivian Smith in Chapter 4, and this is not the place for extended discussion; but three pieces, constantly anthologised and widely read, each reveal facets of the inheritance the writers shared. In what appears a simple mood-sketch or lyric recapitulation, Harpur’s ‘A Midsummer


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Noon in the Australian Forest’ reveals a quintessentially post-Enlightenment psychology of attention. The poem has its origin in powerfully Wordsworthian declarative simplicity (‘Over plains and over woods / What a mighty stillness broods’) that itself gives way to (‘broods’) a kind of negative activity. Even the most active creatures of the earth, the insects, are one by one cast into stillness and into the opposite of their normal habits by the ‘vast and slumbrous’ reign of summer: the crickets avoid the sunlight, the ‘busy ants’ stop working, and the cicada ceases its ubiquitous throbbing call. Even the characteristic human activity, we would say, which is uninterruptedly to apply its attention to the world around it in a way very different from the insects, is nearly arrested. Nearly; but not quite, for the winged and noisy arrival of a ‘dragon-hornet’ (not a dragonfly, and not a wasp either, for this insect has ‘shards’: wing-cases) suddenly awakens the quiescent mind of the narrator, not just into consciousness but into the desire to communicate what he sees (‘see! / All bedaubed resplendently’). In Clarke’s essay on Buvelˆot, heat and stillness suggested death, but in Harpur’s poem there follows an ecstatically detailed description and evocation of life, reaching a climax as the insect’s wing-cases catch the light ‘like gems on fire’. With the beetle’s departure, silence returns, or seems to, until we realise that this silence was always itself made up of background noise: the trickling of water in a creek, the rustling of leaves overhead. True silence, we are given to understand, is a strain on our attention and therefore less conducive to relaxation than such ‘white’ sound which muffles distractions: another fact about human mental existence. Harpur’s ‘Musing thus of Quietness’ (‘Hidden from Noon’s scorching eye’, but developed from the perspective of a human one) turns out to be something more profound than a simple nature-piece. The poem is about a topic most Augustan poets would have thought beneath their dignity (though it is true both Marvell and Pope could have done it justice): the human animal’s resistance and submission to rest, its inability wholly to stifle its appetite for sound and movement, and its glorying in the glory of nature. One of the achievements of Harpur’s poetry in general and ‘A Midsummer Noon in the Australian Forest’ in particular is his methodical and lucid (and Wordsworthian) handling of metre. By contrast, Kendall has struck readers as occasionally being given to the metrically facile (as Byron could be, of course). But in ‘Bell Birds’ the metrical fluency is entirely at the service of the poem as a whole. The rippling rhythm enforced by a constant pattern of alliteration (worthy of Old English verse) but punctuated by a highly stressed couplet rhyme – ‘By channels of coolness the echoes are calling, / And down the dim gorges I hear the creek falling’ – enacts the harmony the poem is about, between the presence of water and the rhyming call of the bird which brings ‘thirsty far-comers’ to it. This harmony spreads from the experience of bush-travellers up to Jehovah’s covenant with Noah after the Flood: The silver-voiced bell-birds, the darlings of daytime! They sing in September their songs of the May-time;


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When shadows wax strong, and the thunder-bolts hurtle, They hide with their fear in the leaves of the myrtle; When rain and the sunbeams shine mingled together, They start up like fairies that follow fair weather; And straightway the hues of their feathers unfolden Are the green and the purple, the blue and the golden.

The poem is careful to retain, even flaunt, its Australian quality; it could come from nowhere else, just as Coleridge’s conversation poems could only have been written in England. Here October is ‘the maiden of bright yellow tresses’ not because of autumnal leaves, but because of wattle blossom; here December is ‘fiery’, not damp and cold; and the Australian September is the May time of old Europe transposed to the southern hemisphere: the spring of New South Wales, when the unexpectedly dry months of winter, governed by westerlies, give way to showers from the south. ‘When shadows wax strong’ in bright sunlight, and when shadows disappear altogether during storms, the birds fall silent in fear. It is when rain and sun ‘shine mingled together’ that these apparently dull birds show their iridescent, rainbow-like plumage. In a landscape of droughts and flooding rains the bell bird is an icon of providence and faith, not just for travellers but for pastoralists as well. Being songbirds they constitute a pledge for poets, too, but only at a remove, only in nostalgic retrospect. ‘Often I sit’, Kendall intones in the final stanza, like the perennially dejected and backward-glancing poet of British Romanticism, . . . looking back to a childhood, Mixt with the sights and the sounds of the wildwood, Longing for power and the sweetness to fashion, Lyrics with beats like the heart-beats of Passion;

Pent as he is ‘in the city and alleys’, like a Lake Poet transplanted to Cambridge or Christ’s Hospital, the poet can create his visions only imaginatively – but create them he does, and in doing so overcomes the depression that is their origin. Gordon’s ‘The Sick Stockrider’ has suffered from becoming swept up with Banjo Paterson’s later horse operas, irresistible as they are. (By no means is Gordon’s poem a ‘galloping rhyme’ like ‘Clancy of the Overflow’, for example.) It, too, possesses a pronounced Romanticism, above all in its retrospect, nostalgia, and the sense of place. Nor is it absurd to compare it to high-Romantic treatments of horse and exhausted rider such as Byron’s Mazeppa or the nameless knight of Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. In all three cases the rider’s connection with his mount is something existential: an index to the life within him that is passing away. The horse is important because it is something wild but temporarily tamed, and therefore associated not only with nature (to which the rider must return in death) but also, in this case, with the life of childhood, destructive and uncaring as childhood sometimes is:


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Let me slumber in the hollow where the wattle blossoms wave, With never stone or rail to fence my bed; Should the sturdy station children pull the bush flowers on my grave, I may chance to hear them romping overhead.

In death the stockrider will become an unfenced horse, re-attuned to the child he himself once was. Children’s romping is a natural destructiveness, living on – the stockrider can now see – in adulthood, when he pursued a group of bushrangers: Hard behind them in the timber, harder still across the heath, Close beside them through the tea-tree scrub we dash’d; And the golden-tinted fern leaves, how they rustled underneath! And the honeysuckle osiers, how they crash’d!

It follows that this kind of life is another model of attentiveness or vigour, to be compared with Harpur’s more passive, dreamy ideal. One way of responding to teatree, fern, and honeysuckle is to hear such plants crumpled beneath your horse as you gallop through them. ‘Care’ is something the stockrider has had no need for and never thought of until he needs the care of others, and the others have mostly died themselves – young, as the myth demands. Like Wordsworth’s Simon Lee, Gordon’s Stockrider has outlived himself as well as his peers, and his retrospect – a ‘hot, slow, sleepy, silent ride’ – encompasses the glory of Australia’s past and youth, when a known and charted landscape drew strength from the threat presented by the lawless ‘Starlight’, and by absorbing the random destinies of men like Hughes, MacPherson, Sullivan, Mostyn, and Carisbrooke: names that suggest an Anglo-Celtic settlerhood as emphatically as Clarke’s duck pond and axe. (Though Carisbrooke was the Isle of Wight prison of the English King Charles I from which he was brought to trial and execution in 1649, so this is not a cosily uncontentious catalogue.) The poem is not pessimistic so much as stoical: ‘when life is ebbing, how those days when life was young / Come back to us’, though we were too busy to attend to them as they passed. ‘For good undone and gifts misspent and resolutions vain, / ’Tis somewhat late to trouble’ because consciousness and conscience were the very things that youth disregarded when arguably they might have made a difference. Like Harpur’s and Kendall’s poems, this is one about consciousness and its quality, mingled yet substantial, recording only what one person can. ‘The animal force and feeling of Byron,’ Harpur once wrote, ‘with the mental sensuousness of Keats, the moral depth of Wordsworth, and the gorgeous ideality of Shelley, in equal proportions and intimately blended in the constitution of one man, would make him, perhaps, a perfect Poet.’20 Harpur was intelligent enough to know that such a creation could never be – or never be a poet, at any rate, whose make-up is never likely to be one of equal proportions and intimate blendings. That very discovery is a rejection of Renaissance and Enlightenment aesthetics and psychology, which still 20 Michael Ackland (ed.), Charles Harpur: Selected Poetry and Prose, Penguin, 1986, p. 45.


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entertained the fantasy of the ‘universal’ or harmonised individual, in whom separate human qualities such as those Harpur listed could be reconciled and would support each other. And his comment reminds us that Romanticism is greater than a sum of its parts, even when they are writers as prodigious and inimitable as the four he listed. As H. G. Schenk wrote many years ago, Romanticism is still the most recent European-wide spiritual and intellectual movement . . . Far from being confined to literature in general, or poetry in particular, it manifested itself also in varying degrees in music and the visual arts, historiography and social thought, and in man’s general outlook on life in this world and the next.21

Explorers took it with them on horseback just as poets voiced it in their studies. Nor was Romanticism only ‘European-wide’, but a sea change in the Western world. It lapped not just the shores but the very centre of the Australian continent; and Australian writers are swimming in it still. It is only because it makes us up that we find it difficult to see. 21 H. G. Schenk, The Mind of the European Romantics: An Essay In Cultural History, Constable, 1966, p. xxi.



Australia’s Australia peter pierce

In two of the most plangent questions posed in an Australian poem, the young man who is the subject of Les Murray’s ‘The Trainee, 1914’ asks, ‘ “Is war very big? As big as New South Wales?” ’1 Ardent, fearful, bewildered, he is readying himself to leave ante-bellum Australia and in particular its locus classicus, the world of rural innocence and purity. This ‘real Australia’, as many have called the outback, will be forever lost, irrevocably compromised by the experience of war. Perhaps the trainee will survive to return to the rural life that he had left, to become part of that recovery and redefinition of what was, and was not, Australia in the decades between the world wars. That effort is the subject of this chapter. Its title, ‘Australia’s Australia’, invites comparison with Chapters 1 and 12, ‘Britain’s Australia’ and ‘Australia’s England’. The focus of this chapter is on assays made of Australia – by novelists, painters, poets, art historians, polemicists, lexicographers among others. This is no search for an Australian quintessence, although some of those considered here may have believed in it. The recoil from the Great War is explored as a significant impetus for a parochial, inward-looking gaze. That metropolitan culture, open to the outside world, whatever its discontents, remained of vital importance is undeniable, as is the fact that so many artists and writers – far from turning away from Europe – took themselves to live there. In 1928, Norman Lindsay’s second son, Raymond, an artist and journalist, entered his historical canvas, ‘Major Johnston Announcing the Arrest of Governor Bligh, January 1808’, in the annual exhibition of the Society for the Arts. Writing in the Bulletin, Cecil Mann thought the quality of the work comparable to that of Norman at the same age. Dame Nellie Melba, the famous Australia diva, was also an admirer. She bought the painting, not for herself, but to present to the Geelong Art Gallery (she had given her last Australian concert in that city earlier in the year). Melba took the chance to give stern counsel to the young painter: ‘Get out of this country. It’s no good for any artist.’2 Shortly afterwards, Melba went back to Europe for a last, extended visit. 1 Les Murray, The Ilex Tree (with Geoffrey Lehmann) ANU, 1965. 2 Related in a memoir by his brother, Jack Lindsay, The Roaring Twenties: Literary Life in Sydney New South Wales in the Years 1921–6, Bodley Head, 1960.


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The degree to which artists in the 1920s and 30s heeded such advice by turning away from Australia is remarkable. Geoffrey Serle gave a long list of them in From Deserts the Prophets Come: The Creative Spirit in Australia (1973).3 They included Raymond Lindsay’s brothers Jack and Philip, Graham and Colin McInnes, Frederic Manning (author of The Middle Parts of Fortune, pseudonymously published in London in 1929 and for Ernest Hemingway the finest novel of the Great War), novelist Martin Boyd (like Manning a war veteran), the historian Alan Moorehead, and some distinguished female authors: Barbara Baynton, Catherine Duncan, Velia Ercole, Miles Franklin, Mary Fullerton, Henry Handel Richardson, Helen Simpson and Christina Stead. (What they achieved is one of the concerns of Chapter 12, ‘Australia’s England’.) Here the focus is on those who stayed in the country, or who came home to it, often after war service. Some went back to the land, even though most were city-bred and educated. They were influenced by the ideological viewpoint that privileged the country over the city. That is an old notion, but one given particular focus by the Great War and what was surmised of its aftermath. In London on 1 February 1916, at a special meeting of the Empire Land Settlement Committee of the Royal Colonial Institute, Lord Curzon farewelled the novelist Rider Haggard, who was to lead a mission to the dominions on the institute’s behalf. Its object was to investigate the possibilities for resettling some of the returned soldiers from a war that was yet nearly three years from its end, in the outflung, predominantly white countries of the British Empire. These were among Curzon’s words: Do you believe that the great majority of ex-servicemen will be willing to go back to the factory, the workshop or the office stool . . . They will want to settle down somewhere on the land, where they can lead a healthy life, earn an honourable living, bring up their families and, even as on the battlefield, may continue to do some service to the state.4

Trench warfare, apparently, would give ex-soldiers a taste for the outdoor life. Nonetheless, in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, this ideal – for which Haggard earnestly proselytised on his travels – was implemented in soldier settlement schemes after the war. The return to rural, rather than urban, Australia was posited as a choice for physical and moral health. Thousands of farmers without experience, and their families, would suffer from another shibboleth of the ‘real Australia’, crippled by properties that were too small and unmanageable levels of debt repayment. Yet their endeavours received wholesale support from those who would not share their labour. As Stuart Macintyre remarked, ‘the poet, the eugenicist and the immigration enthusiast were united in their preference for the country over the city. The concentration of population in the towns was blamed for the decline of the birth rate.’5 3 Geoffrey Serle, From Deserts the Prophets Come: The Creative Spirit in Australia, Heinemann, 1973. 4 Peter Pierce, ‘Rider Haggard in Australia’, Meanjin, 36. 2 (1977), p. 124. 5 Stuart Macintyre, A Concise History of Australia, CUP, 1999, p. 213.


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Several Australian authors experimented with other kinds of rural retreat, rather than expatriation, between the wars. Katharine Susannah Prichard’s months-long stay at Turee Creek Station in the Pilbara yielded the novel Coonardoo, the short story ‘The Cooboo’ and the play Brumby Innes. On 1 November 1926 she wrote from there to Hilda Esson: ‘we seem to be cut off from the rest of the world by long shimmering plains, blue hills and pink, mottled with purple, dove-grey millions of miles of mulga, the mirages and forms of red dust, infinite, exquisite skies’.6 Authors Vance and Nettie Palmer settled in the early 1920s in a house that Prichard owned at Emerald in the Dandenong Ranges, then practically remote from Melbourne. In 1932 they spent eight months at Green Island off tropical Cairns. Jean Devanny lived for a good deal of the 1930s in Far North Queensland. A strike of sugar-cane cutters at Innisfail is fictionalised in her novel Sugar Heaven (1936).7 Xavier Herbert moved to that part of the world as well, to Redlynch, then a township outside Cairns. Perhaps the most famous of these internal exiles was the neurasthenic journalist and naturalist, E. J. Banfield, who settled on Dunk Island off the North Queensland coast in 1897 and remained there till his death in 1923. The most famous of a series of books about this experience was the first, The Confessions of a Beachcomber (1908). Aptly, Banfield chose words from Thoreau for the epitaph on his grave. The title of Drusilla Modjeska’s study of ‘Australian Women Writers, 1925–1945’, Exiles at Home (1981),8 anticipates a somewhat different emphasis. These women, she reckons, were essentially exiles within their own homes, forced to cope with family demands. Not for them the escape into masculine, bohemian worlds such as that of the Lindsays and their Vision circle. Modjeska traces the network of women writers that Nettie Palmer built around herself and which – because of their geographical dispersal and domestic circumstances – ‘relied extensively on correspondence’. Reflecting the constrictions of their home lives on their careers as writers, many of the novels by these women were ‘passionate in their criticism of the effects of marriage’. Numerous Australian writers after the end of the Great War sought to make discoveries in and about their own country, whether by physical expeditions into inland and other remote regions, or by journeying back in time to the pioneering past. Something of what they found and imagined of Australia’s Australia is mapped here. To begin with two examples, significant inquiries into Australia published in the last year of World War II: Sidney Baker described the purpose of The Australian Language as ‘an examination of the English language and English speech as used in Australia, from convict days to the present, with specific reference to the rise of indigenous idiom and its use by Australian writers’. His epigraph came from W. K. Hancock’s seminal work Australia (1930): ‘Here, surely, is new wealth, expressive of a distinctive and vigorous life, material 6 Ric Throssell (ed.), Wild Weeds and Wind Flowers: The Life and Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard, A&R, 1975, p. 50. 7 Jean Devanny, Sugar Heaven, Modern Publishing Co., 1936. 8 Drusilla Modjeska, Exiles at Home: Australian Women Writers, 1925–1945, A&R, 1981.


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for an individual literature.’9 What at first struck Baker (a New Zealander) as ‘distinctive’ was slang, but from there his scope broadened grandly and often humorously in this – one of the most ambitious surveys of Australianness. In the same year, Bernard Smith published Place, Taste and Tradition: A Study of Australian Art Since 1788.10 Owning his debt to William Moore’s The Story of Australian Art (1934), Smith based his book on lectures that he had given to the New South Wales Teachers’ Federation Art Society. The context in which it was produced was one of international crisis, albeit one now coming to an end: ‘We were living through some of the worst days of World War Two, when the victory of Hitler in Europe and Hirohito in the Pacific seemed all too likely . . . the writing of Place, Taste and Tradition provided me with a surrogate: it was my contribution to the war effort.’ This revaluation of Australian art would be followed by Smith’s studies of the art of Cook’s voyages and of the First Fleet, and by a path-breaking excursion east of the continent: European Vision and the South Pacific (1960). It was in fiction, however, that the deepest and some of the strangest soundings into Australian life were made in this period. Though in fact he never strayed further from his native New England than New York, H. P. Lovecraft’s literary excursions were as extravagant as those of his mentor, Edgar Allan Poe. He trawled ‘the huge expanses of the South Pacific’, set his story ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ in Antarctica, used ‘an old number of an Australian journal, the Sydney Bulletin for April 18, 1925’ for its account of the fate of a derelict ship ‘found at sea’ in ‘The Call of Cthulu’ (1926) and – in ‘The Shadow Out of Time’ (1934)11 – ventured deep into the interior of Western Australia. Aware of Professor Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee’s occult research, a Pilbara mining engineer writes to him of his discoveries, adding that ‘the blackfellows have always been full of talk about “great stones with marks on them” and seem to have a terrible fear of such things’. So an expedition is mounted. What Peaslee found, ‘on the night of 17–18 July 1935’ when perhaps he was ‘drawn back to the pre-human world’, may have been ‘wholly or partly an hallucination’, yet ‘its realism was so hideous that I sometimes find hope impossible’. This freak of a febrile imagination is still worth dissection. Between the wars, Australian authors of fiction showed a signal lack of interest in the Pacific, let alone in Antarctica. Far outback Australia, however, which had earlier been colonised by such Rider Haggard–inspired romances of lost civilisations as Rosa Praed’s Fugitive Anne (1903), would be revisited, but more in the spirit of hideous realism than of fancy and often in tales of the implacable blighting of hope. The most distinctive kind of Australian fiction between the wars was a naturalised version of the saga: stories of pioneering, of struggles against seasonal and elemental forces, as well as the constraints of domesticity, 9 Sidney Baker, The Australian Language, A&R, 1945. W. K. Hancock, Australia, Ernest Benn, 1930. 10 Bernard Smith, Place, Taste and Tradition: A Study of Australian Art Since 1788, Ure Smith, 1945. 11 H. P. Lovecraft, ‘The Shadow Out of Time’, first published in Astounding Stories (June 1936); reprinted in The Dunwich Horror and Others, Arkham House, 1963.


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of the dispossession of the Indigenous peoples. These were minatory tales of how fragile was the hold that could be exercised over places so far from Australia’s coastal cities.

Naturalising the saga Saga fiction was a legitimising enterprise, in praise of European pioneers who settled vast and seemingly intractable stretches of land. The painter Frederick McCubbin’s triptych ‘The Pioneers’ (1904) was a paean to their endeavours. Patrick White’s novel The Tree of Man (1955) was a long, ironic reflection on that painting and a revision of the commonplaces of the saga form for a post-war readership, just as Voss (1957) attempted the same revision of quest romance. Both the cases of White and of Australian narrative painting suggest another of the wellsprings of inter-war saga, and its attempt to discover – not new lands, for only Lovecraft would revive such mysteries – but the nature of Australia’s Australia. This generative impulse is a profound reaction to the experiences – at first and second hand – of the Great War. Dramatising eras of pioneering in a fabled national past, saga recoils from the bloody recent memories of the war (though not to the point of being unwilling to shed blood). The gaze of saga turns inwards to Australia and its past, as though the war had been a disastrous overseas delinquency that the recollections of arduous toil in more innocent times, work demanding of heroism of a different kind, will reprove. For many of those who fought, the war entrenched parochialism after their homecoming, rather than enlarging their sense of the world. Many ex-servicemen turned gladly home, became introspective, preferred taciturnity, maybe became narrower of view because of what they had endured. Many, of course, went back to the land, where – according to C. E. W. Bean, the official historian of Australia in the Great War – the Anzac spirit had been nurtured. The ‘real Australia’ (his phrase) that Bean had found in western New South Wales early in the 20th century, while researching his books On the Wool Track (1910) and The Dreadnought of the Darling (1911),12 demanded the values of resilience, mateship, courage, improvisation, that would sustain the Australian troops who went ashore at Gallipoli at dawn on 25 April 1915. Nor was Bean a solitary exponent of such a view. In May 1918 Arthur Streeton, who had recently been appointed an official Australian war artist, wrote to his fellow painter Tom Roberts: it’s necessary to see and know [the Australian soldier] to properly appreciate the manhood of Australia. Absolutely. The fights against flood, fire and drought [the trinity of saga tribulations] in the bush all tell in the field here – and bring out the finest in them . . . it has to be seen and observed here – which is a privilege.13 12 C. E. W. Bean, On the Wool Track, A. Rivers, 1910, and The Dreadnought of the Darling, A. Rivers, 1911. 13 Quoted in Betty Churcher, The Art of War, Miegunyah Press, 2004, p. 17.


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This comes from a man city-bred, as was Bean, as was George Lambert, who had celebrated pioneering toil in rural Australia in his painting ‘Across the Black Soil Plains’ (1899) and whose ‘Anzac, the Landing, 1915’ would be earmarked for the first exhibition mounted by the Australian War Memorial on Anzac Day 1922. In The Art of War (2004), Betty Churcher teased out the vital link between Lambert’s two paintings: ‘These heroes of the outback become the prototype for the typical Australian character – tough, resourceful, anti-authoritarian, and loyal to mates – characteristics that many of the young recruits from the cities felt they shared with the recruits from the bush.’14 Of Lambert’s Palestinian war landscape paintings – particularly ‘The Charge of the Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, 1917’ – Churcher contends that they ‘set in train a new vogue in Australian landscape painting’. That is, they encouraged painterly attention to the arid regions of the continent, directed the artists’ gaze deep inland, as in Hans Heysen’s works depicting the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Such paintings were a counterpart of the saga fiction that flourished in the 1920s and 30s. The authors and the suggestive titles of that fiction include Eleanor Dark’s tale of the first years of European settlement in New South Wales, The Timeless Land (1941); and A House is Built (1929), by M. Barnard Eldershaw, which deals not with the bush but with the affairs of the Sydney merchant dynasty founded by James Hyde. Other works are the six novels that Miles Franklin wrote as Brent of Bin Bin; Up the Country (1928), set in the Monaro district in the 1850s, was succeeded by Ten Creeks Run (1930), which dramatised upheavals in the next generation of several squatter families. The journalist and newspaper editor Brian Penton finished two parts of a projected saga trilogy, the bluntly titled Landtakers (1934) and Inheritors (1936), which also treat of successive generations, this time in the pioneering Cabel family in rural Queensland in the second half of the 19th century. A House is Built shared the 1928 Bulletin fiction prize with Prichard’s Coonardoo. Its publishing fortunes were no smoother. Both books were rejected by the Australian publisher Angus & Robertson, so that their authors looked to London (to Harrap and Cape respectively), where the novels were published in the following year. It was not until 1960 that the first Australian edition of Coonardoo appeared, achieving sales of 20 000 in that year and soon finding its way onto school syllabuses (see Chapter 8). But in 1928 the problem was, for at least one of the Bulletin judges – Gallipoli veteran and editor of the magazine’s Red Page, Cecil Mann – the eponymous heroine, the Aboriginal woman Coonardoo (whose name meant ‘The Well in the Shadow’). He remarked that ‘With any other native, from fragrant Zulu to fly-kissed Arab maid, she could have done it. But the Aboriginal, in Australia anyway, cannot excite any higher feeling than nauseated pity or comical contempt.’15 (Or perhaps more: near Coniston 14 Ibid., p. 23. 15 Throssell, Wild Weeds and Wind Flowers, p. 54. (For the Bulletin’s Red Page, or literary section, see Chapter 8, below.)


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in the Northern Territory in that year of 1928 the last recorded large-scale massacre of Aborigines occurred.) Mann’s view was seconded by the venerable Australian poet Mary Gilmore (who three decades before had been part of the New Australia experiment in Paraguay), when in December 1928 she wrote to Nettie Palmer (a close friend of Prichard’s), ‘What an appalling thing Coonardoo is. It is not merely a journalistic description of station life, it is vulgar and dirty.’16 Presumably this is because the novel includes an act of miscegenation between Hugh Watt, owner of the Pilbara cattle station Wytaliba, and Coonardoo, albeit one so chastely described as almost not to have happened. The Bulletin, which had serialised the novel, had unctuous second thoughts: ‘Our disastrous experiment with Coonardoo shows us that the Australian public will not stand stories based on a white man’s relations with an Australian Aborigine.’17 In this reckoning of driving forces behind saga fiction, Coonardoo features in other ways. It covers three generations in the lives of the Watt family (to the point where Wytaliba is lost), and stretches to the late 1920s in its temporal compass, that is, to the time of the novel’s completion. Yet the Great War (in which Prichard’s husband, Hugo Throssell, won a Victoria Cross at Gallipoli), is altogether elided. In her 1967 monograph on Prichard, Henrietta Drake-Brockman quotes her as saying that the war was ‘too scarring to be treated casually . . . better to ignore its anguish and repercussions, here, in a tragic black-and-white situation it did not alter’.18 Not only Coonardoo, but saga fiction in general turned away from the supposedly crucial episode in the making of Australia. It turned inwards, to the remote parts of the continent, and backwards in time, to that pioneering era in which proto-national values supposedly were formed. The saga generously contained historical fiction, travelogue, myth-making and moral exempla. Indeed in one important sense the form was history-making as well, because these narratives of the Australian past were a vital source of information for general readers in an era where the professionalisation of the teaching of Australian history had hardly begun. One of the most prolific of authors of saga is now one of the least known. Tasmanianborn Noel Norman – as Louis Kaye – published 13 novels in the 1930s, all with Wright & Brown in London. The first was Tybal Men (1931),19 a quintessence of the saga novel. The second edition had a fulsome foreword from the prolific author and sometime resident of Australia, A. A. G. ‘Smiler’ Hales, who recorded how an expedition in search of local colour for his 50th novel had been interrupted when ‘this new man’s manuscript blew in upon me’. Faithfully, powerfully, it dealt with ‘the life of the burning west’. This was the ‘strangest, grimmest novel written by any man on Australian back block life since Marcus Clarke’. In a perhaps more apposite comparison, Hales found Tybal Men ‘in its way . . . as true a picture of Australian back block life as Miss Schreiner’s 16 Ibid., p. 54. 17 Ibid., p. 55. 18 Henrietta Drake-Brockman, Katharine Susannah Prichard, OUP, 1967, p. 37. 19 Louis Kaye [Noel Norman], Tybal Men, Wright & Brown, 1931.


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[The Story of an African Farm, 1883] was of South African veldt life’. Here was a triumph of hideous realism: ‘He has looked at life in the raw, fierce, relentless, semi-savage life, and he has written the things he saw.’ While still in his teens, and during the Great War, Norman ran away from his Hobart home and worked in outback Western Australia, a crucial experience for his fiction. As Louis Kaye, he soon found popular and financial success, though scant acclaim in his own country. Stories of his were published in the American Saturday Evening Post (fetching up to $US1500 each), in Canada, and in the Strand magazine and the Illustrated London News in England. In 1933 Norman deplored the failure of most Australian writers to confront ‘our plains and desert country’.20 He was a determined exception. The Tybal men of his first novel are the three Maclean brothers: Alan, married to the querulous Zillah, a wife unfitted for station life (as was Hugh’s wife Mollie in Coonardoo); Vivian, a veteran of the Great War; and the knockabout Don Mac. The two generations before them are briefly sketched: the redoubtable Scots pioneer in ‘a wild, mad land’, Angus Maclean, and his scapegrace son James who died ‘in a drunken fight with a nigger’. Now the three sons are trying to save their sheep property in the south of Western Australia. Their adversaries include drought, but also the banks and dirty politicians: ‘fighting with words, with mind and tongue, with cunning’ is not the Maclean way. As James declares to his sister Katy, ‘Our enemies are coming from behind us now.’ Alan is of like mind: ‘He would think of the cities, the Australian cities huddling on the coasts with their swelling population, as fat parasites on the land, and the sweat and labour of the land.’ (In A. D. Hope’s 1939 poem ‘Australia’, those cities would be likened to ‘five teeming sores’.) Saga is often the vehicle of such peroration. Radical and iconoclastic views can be ventilated even if the larger narrative is patriotic, of nation-building. Men in states of extremity, such as the Macleans, more readily vent their feelings against the metropolitan world that trammels the efforts of those who work on the land. Norman, who would be dismissed from the ABC during World War II for his left-wing views, gives Vivian a set-piece denunciation of militarism. Here is an uncommonly talkative revenant, who speaks from the pain of his ‘war-broken life’ to condemn ‘ “the war-makers and the war-lords and the statesmen who want their names in the history books!” ’ Wars are not accidents, but are ‘ “worked up for years” ’. He is disgusted by the ‘ “patriotic cant and hysteria” ’ and declares that ‘ “the enemy you meet on the battlefield . . . is not your enemy” ’. (This sentiment is reiterated in some of the novels that Martin Boyd wrote after World War II that drew on his active service in the Great War.) Vivian dies, raging. Tybal is saved by an improbable stroke of luck and literally on the last page. The short, prolific and instructive career of Louis Kaye was fairly begun. The most famous of the inter-war saga novels also takes advantage of the form’s welcome for discursive and declamatory passages of a radical temper, even though this 20 Michael Roe, ‘Noel Norman’, The Companion to Tasmanian History, University of Tasmania: Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, 2005, p. 252.


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might be regarded as contrary to the conservative, chronicle structure of the saga. The novel is Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia (1938),21 which developed from the tellingly titled work-in-progress called ‘Black Velvet’ to a panorama of northern Australia in the early decades of the 20th century. Much of the elaboration and revision of the novel was done while Herbert and his wife Sadie were in London in 1930–2. Crucial to the completion of the novel was P. R. Stephensen, ultimately unthanked as editor and first publisher of Capricornia. An expansive note is struck at the beginning, ‘When New Westminster was for the third time swept into the Silver Sea by the floods of the generous wet season.’ Thereafter much of the action is set in the newly established regional centre of Port Zodiac (where mingle Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Malays, Aborigines and the European vanguard) and along the railway line that stretches south into the hinterland. The roll of more than 100 characters includes the Shillingworth brothers, the bastard half-caste son of one of them – called Naw-nim, then Norman – the blustering patriot Tim O’Cannon, Andy McRandy, Yellow Elbert, the southern lawyer Bightit. The mock-epic element of Herbert’s narrative is signalled by those over-determining names. The mood of the work is remarkably buoyant, considering how many of the characters violently die. The issue of miscegenation – evidently so controversial when Coonardoo was judged 10 years before – is now an unexceptional commonplace of life in the north. Yet there are savage interpolations about the treatment of Aborigines, notably of life in the Compound set aside for them: ‘ “Most Aborigines who had been born in freedom preferred to do their starving in the bush. And all the while the nation was boasting to the world of its Freedom and Manliness and Honesty. Australia Felix?” ’ At various points in the novel, its loquacious characters debate whether Aborigines are dying out or not (the ‘ “last big shout-out of niggers by jonnops was in 1928 . . . last big one that was made public I mean” ’); the justice or otherwise of the White Australia Policy (this in a region further from the realisation of such a stern ideal than any in the continent); the fate of an adventurous female pilot; the Great War, especially as it affects cattle prices; the feasibility of a railway line all the way south from Port Zodiac to Churchtown (Herbert’s mocking name for Adelaide); the economic cycles of boom and bust in the north; the extent of the danger posed to Australia by the Japanese. Capricornia is a saga alert to the world elsewhere, as befits a novel set in a port facing in one direction towards Asia, rather than enmeshed within the boundaries of a cattle station. One of Herbert’s principal, polemical spokesmen is Joe Digger, in private a poet and novelist, who lectures Oscar Shillingworth on the virtues of the Binghis (from the local Aboriginal word binggay, meaning elder brother): ‘ “Their code of simple brotherhood is Christianity to me.” ’ Angrily he asks how it is that 21 Xavier Herbert, Capricornia: A Novel of Northern Australia, The Publicist, 1938.


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‘All sorts of evil breeds – the sex-mad Hindoos, the voodooing Africans, the cannibals of Oceania, all dirty, diseased, slaving and enslaving races – are being helped to decent civilised manhood by the thoughtful white people of the world, while we of this country, the richest in the world, just stand by and see out black compatriots wiped out. They’ll be like the Noble Redman some day – noble when gone!’

The saga form accommodates such iconoclasm, but how far Herbert’s predominantly metropolitan readers were touched by its moral burden, rather than its exoticism, is uncertain. More disconcerting might have been Andy McRandy’s welcome of the prospect of a Japanese invasion. For by this means, Australia might truly discover itself: ‘ “It’d be the making of us. We need sumpen like that to bring out our character, to make a real true creation of us.”’ Its hectic vitality unabated many decades later, its desires for the Australian future still largely unresolved, Capricornia is the culmination of the saga novel in the national fiction. This unmatched testament to Australian nihilism concludes with harsh, mocking sounds not of the human world: ‘The crows alighted in a gnarled, dead coolibah near by and cried dismally, “Kah!-Kah!-Kaaaah!” ’

Facts and fictions One of the distinctive and best-selling kinds of prose works written in Australia in the inter-war years shifted back and forth across the unpatrolled boundary between fact and fiction. Some of the titles of books by William Hatfield indicate this constructive straying. Hatfield came from England to Australia in 1911, before he had turned 20, and worked for a decade on cattle stations in remote parts of the country – northern South Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory. Sheepmates (1931) was a semiautobiographical reminiscence of this time. Desert Saga (1933) followed the fortunes of an Arrernte (Arunta) Aboriginal boy. Then there were documentary and descriptive works: Australia Through the Windscreen (1936) and Into the Great Unfenced (1940). Frank Clune’s career began at the same time as Hatfield’s, with an account of his varied work and wanderings, Try Anything Once (1933). In the four subsequent decades, this Gallipoli veteran produced more than 60 books, although a number of them – particularly those with historical subjects – were ghosted by Stephensen. Clune’s name appeared on two dozen books of travel, in two of the earliest of which he followed the course that Bean had set 30 years before. These were Rolling Down the Lachlan (1935) and Roaming Round the Darling (1936). Another of the most prolific of Australian authors, and a few years older than Clune and Hatfield, was Ion Idriess. In common with a number of the male authors considered here, he was a veteran of the Great War. But his production issued from sedentary circumstances: most of his books were written at a dedicated desk at Angus & Robertson in Sydney. Before that his life was altogether more active. A member of the Light Horse,


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he used that experience for his second notable literary success, The Desert Column (1932). After the war, Idriess worked as a coastal seaman, drover, opal-miner, rabbitexterminator, and journalist. He achieved fame with a work altogether more fanciful than those occupations might have suggested. This was Lasseter’s Last Ride (1931), the story of a fabled reef of gold that Harold Lasseter had first glimpsed near the western edge of the Macdonnell Ranges in 1900. Backed by the Australian Workers’ Union, he set out to rediscover the reef in 1930, but died of exposure in January 1931. The possibility of finding the reef of gold has continued to tantalise. Certainly Idriess was fascinated by the treasure that might be dug up or harvested in distant parts of Australia. In his curious and revealing hybrid work, The Yellow Joss and Other Tales (1934), Idriess claims that the stories in this volume record happenings or incidents in men’s lives which interested me during the years of wandering among the bushmen and natives of Cape York Peninsula; the pearlers, trochus and beche-de-mer getters of the Coral Sea; the native islanders of the Torres Strait; the ‘beachcombers’ of the Great Barrier Reef, and along the eastern coast and in the Arafura Sea to the west. 22

Purportedly the stories are ‘transcripts of fact or are largely based on fact’. Louis Becke, Idriess’ most important predecessor, especially for his tales of the islands of the South Pacific, might have made the same claim. The illusion of fact, indeed of ethnographic inquiry, is heightened by the use of photographs. Here are pictures of Queensland mining camps, Darnley Island in the Torres Strait – ‘Off Which is the Divers’ Graveyard’ – and, smoking a very large pipe, ‘A Meditative Oriental, Thursday Island’. Men are driven by desperate dreams of riches, as they search for sandalwood, pearls, ambergris, ‘a wonderful orchid’, beche-de-mer, or follow a ‘lost soul’s track’ in search of gold. In the depths of the Great Depression, Australia is apparently full of fabled riches for the recklessly adventurous. Even radium is hunted on an island in Torres Strait. This is the Boonya, ‘the spirit light’ which (in an unwitting nod to Lovecraft’s story of the same year) ‘may originally have come from some lost civilisation’. Idriess’ factions are deeply escapist, briefly freeing readers from metropolitan misery by the hope of the treasures that Australia harbours.

National self-respect There were more high-minded visions of Australia’s possibilities than this. Stephensen the great enabler of Capricornia, was – like Herbert – an ardent advocate for the national future. A Queensland Rhodes Scholar for 1924, he was nearly sent down from Oxford for his radical opinions. Remaining in England, he worked with Jack Lindsay and Jack Kirtley at the Franfolico Press; set up the short-lived Mandrake Press which 22 Ion Idriess, The Yellow Joss and Other Tales, A&R, 1934.


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published D. H. Lawrence; returned to Australia in 1932, where he was again involved in various publishing ventures. In January 1935 he chaired a reception for the Czech communist and journalist Egon Kisch (whom after protracted and comic misadventures the Australian government managed to deport) and Katharine Prichard to establish the Sydney branch of the Book Censorship Abolition League. In the following year, his ‘Retort Courteous’ to a disparagement of Australian literature by Professor George Cowling of the University of Melbourne, was published by W. J. Miles. This was The Foundations of Culture in Australia: An Essay Towards National Self-Respect.23 His three-part essay conceded that ‘our national Australian history is comparatively brief ’, but proceeded undeterred. With a confidence that sounds Emersonian, Stephensen declared that ‘for us, each decade of our history is packed with love and legend and significant national experience. A decade of our own history is more important to us than a century of history from elsewhere.’ He enjoined Australians to ‘Populate or Perish’; inveighed against Toc H and the Boy Scouts, which ‘strengthen a puerile sentimentality about England and the Empire’; mused that if things ‘go smash elsewhere’, Australians may have to accept the responsibility as ‘principal guardian of white civilisation, of white culture, of white traditions upon this earth’. Defiant, defensive, the essay signalled Stephensen’s political shift to the right and towards isolationism, even as he attacked Australia’s ‘hermit intellectuals’ for not protesting against the ‘monstrous Customs censorship of books which is making Australia’s name stink throughout the world’. In 1941 Stephensen was one of the founders of the Australia First movement. March of the next year saw him interned with 15 others. It was August 1945, in the last month of the war, before he was released. The South Australian poet Rex Ingamells was one of those who joined Australia First in 1941, although he escaped Stephensen’s fate. The Foundations of Culture in Australia had been a seminal influence and provoked Ingamells’ sympathetic response: another manifesto, if in a minor key, the pamphlet Conditional Culture (1938).24 The title meant what it said: ‘the blossoming of a distinctive Australian culture depends on certain conditions’. The enemies of a such a development were the jingoism that had attended Australia’s participation in the Great War and the disdainful opinion of outsiders (such as the English-born Cowling) about distinctive features of Australia. Ingamells quotes the English author Norman Douglas on the introduction of the eucalypt to the Mediterranean basin: ‘this eyesore, this grey-haired scarecrow, this reptile of a growth’; ‘no plant on earth rustles in such a horribly metallic fashion . . . it is like the sibilant chatterings of ghosts’. (Fabian Socialists Beatrice and Sidney Webb had been similarly unimpressed by the gum tree during their visit of 1898.) For remedy, Ingamells turned inwards, announcing to the world the advent of a word, and a movement: ‘ “Jindyworobak” is an Aboriginal word meaning “to annex, 23 P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia: An Essay Towards National Self-Respect, W. J. Miles, 1936. 24 Rex Ingamells and Ian Tilbrook, Conditional Culture, F. W. Preece, 1938.


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to join”, and I propose to coin it for a particular use. The Jindyworobaks, I say, are those individuals who are endeavouring to free Australian art from whatever alien influences trammel it.’ Language must be purged ‘of Old World associations’. The history of Australia ‘abounds in a wealth of dramatic material’, but little use has been made of ‘Australia’s primaevalism’. Only four novels meet Ingamells’ stern standard: Clarke’s His Natural Life and three sagas – Landtakers, A House is Built and Richardson’s trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (1930). Ambivalently, Ingamells sees salvation in ‘The Culture of the Aborigines’. If they are now ‘a degenerate, puppet people, mere parodies of what their race once was, [yet] the laws, the customs, and the art of the Australian Aborigines went to make a culture which was closely bound in every way to their environment’. Capricornia (in some ways a much more ambitious manifesto) echoed these sentiments in the same year. Annexing the teachings of the original Australians was the Jindyworobak mission, one sadly more flaccid than flamboyant in Ingamells’ prescription: ‘from Aboriginal legend, sublimated through our thought, we must achieve something of a positive outlook on life’. In 1933, as a spin-off from the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–8, edited by Bean, the Australian War Memorial published a collection of reproductions in colour and duo-tone of paintings of that war (Lambert’s among them). It was called Australian Chivalry.25 The frontispiece depicts a nonchalant digger, cigarette in hand, looking across the ruins of a battlefield to his unexpected counterpart, an armoured, crusading knight. From the horrors of war is plucked this mollifying, dignifying, if distant connection. It was a bold, ideological move by the editor, J. L. Treloar. In effect he was offering another recipe for the cleansing of Australia (as did Ingamells, Herbert and the Customs Department), but more precisely an alternative to the recently created legend of Anzac. That legend had its origins in German Sturm und Drang Romanticism, in the notion that fledgling nations, such as Australia was in 1915, enlist in history through participation in war. By contrast, Australian Chivalry looks away from the blood sacrifice, the corporate heroism, the fecund failure of Gallipoli, proffering a tentative, alternative set of values: ‘honour’, individual moral choice, the enduring power of ‘compassion’, ‘self-sacrifice and altruism’. That is, inspiration was sought in such qualities as might build a nation in peace as well as in war. The book intended to remove its readers from reflection on the terrible recent losses in the Great War by transporting them back to the supposedly chivalrous time (or out of time) when virtues such as those the Australians also showed (besides those martial ones of the Anzac legend) were sovereign. But Treloar had still another aim for Australian Chivalry, one animated by his anxieties about the moral and literary hygiene of the nation. Introducing the book, he expressed the hope that it would ‘idealise the men who served and thus to some extent counteract the debased outlook in many recent war books which have aroused hostile criticism and resentment’. 25 J. T. Treloar (ed.), Australian Chivalry, Australian War Memorial, 1933.


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Presumably he had in mind such recently published fiction of the Great War as Manning’s The Middle Parts of Fortune, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (which the Nazis banned and burned in 1933).

Banning and disparaging Treloar was not seeking to interdict such books, but to provide a wholesome alternative to them, albeit of an utterly different kind. The Australian Customs Department took a sterner view. In 1928, the handful of books to be banned from importation into Australia included Balzac’s Droll Stories and cheap editions of Boccaccio and Rabelais. But by 1936, an astonishing 5000 titles were prohibited from entry. Joyce’s Ulysses led the way in April 1929, and was soon to be in distinguished company. Excluded too were works by Defoe, Huxley, Orwell, Dos Passos, Hemingway, Colette and Norman Lindsay. It was against such government action that Stephensen, Prichard and other leaders of the Book Censorship Abolition League fought. Their protests were so successful that much of the censorship had been rolled back by the end of the decade, soon however to be succeeded by the control over war news that would so enrage Brian Penton, and others. Censorship – keeping Australia healthy by banning contaminating foreign influences and ideas – was the dark counterpart of the desire to encourage the national well-being by a return to the soil. Only the second Australian book to be banned – the first was Norman Lindsay’s Redheap (1930) under different legislation – was J. M. Harcourt’s Upsurge: A Novel (1934.26 In his preface to the facsimile edition of 1985, Richard Nile noted some of the work’s distinctions: ‘the first Australian novel to employ the literary techniques of socialist realism, the first to be banned under the guidelines of the Commonwealth Censorship Board and the first to be the subject of police prosecution’. Born in Melbourne in 1902, Harcourt headed west in his teens, working as an assistant surveyor at Kalgoorlie and a pearl-sheller at Broome – that multi-ethnic location where Prichard set a pot-boiler, Moon of Desire (1941). Unlike Idriess’ questers, his £2000 share from the discovery of a pearl let him return to Perth as a journalist and – for a few years – a novelist. Upsurge was the second of only three. Prichard hailed it as the first Australian proletarian novel. A former colleague, in an ungallant review, recommended the novel for those readers who ‘carry prohibited Parisian picture cards in their pocket wallets and scribble on walls’. Harcourt’s Marxist politics appear to have given as much offence as the book’s sex scenes. Magistrate Riddle is threatened with a stick of gelignite up his arse, while the man who made that threat later feels ‘a constriction of his throat and a swelling of his genitals’ while he gazes upon an impossible object of desire. (He goes to a brothel for relief.) A loose woman, on Rockingham Beach, ‘laughed and sighed and 26 J. M. Harcourt, Upsurge: A Novel, John Long, 1934.


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submitted’. Harcourt may have courted the ban. In any event, his notoriety saw him elected as the first president of the Book Censorship Abolition League in 1935. The Great War, as Stuart Macintyre remarks, had seen ‘excessive censorship of news from the front’. He also emphasises the signal importance of the catastrophe that swiftly followed the Armistice: ‘the idea of Australia threatened by modern evils was symbolised by the influenza epidemic that struck Europe at the end of the war’.27 In Australia in 1919, 12 000 died of the so-called Spanish Influenza. Macintyre comments: ‘as with the virus, so with other pathogens. Seditious and obscene publications were censored, degenerate art condemned, undesirable aliens deported.’ The scale of censorship has been noted, as has the ham-fisted attempt to rid Australia of Egon Kisch. Here the presumed enemy took the form of ideas, reified in books and in certain meddlesome individuals. What, however, was the threat that art, ‘degenerate’ or not, posed to Australia? Robert Menzies (who as attorney-general had led the action against Kisch) became prime minister for the first time from 1939 to 1941. Before he lost office, this proponent of an Australian version of the Royal Academy for the arts was able to observe how he had always felt that French art was decadent, and that this was proven by the fall of France. Menzies’ feelings about Germany (which he visited in 1938) and the Nazis were ambivalent, rather than fondly supportive, as has been contended. That there were pro-Nazi sentiments abroad in Australia in the 1930s is indisputable. Eric Campbell, leader of the right-wing New Guard, applauded Hitler’s regime for its ‘cleansing of alleged subversives and degenerates’.28 Presumably he meant homosexuals, communists and – of course – Jews. The latter were the target of the period’s most flagrant and inflammatory attack on artistic modernism, Addled Art (1942) by Sir Lionel Lindsay, brother of Norman.29 The cartoon on the book’s cover comes briskly to the point. An ape with artist’s beret and palette throws expressionist, futurist (rotten), surrealist (guaranteed putrid) and cubist eggs at the Venus de Milo. Inside, acknowledgement is made to the Melbourne Herald newspaper for permission to reproduce works from the Exhibition of French and British Art sponsored by Sir Keith Murdoch. Some of these gave Lindsay particular offence and ammunition for his diatribe. The paintings became prisoners-of-war, unable to be returned to Europe till 1946. War and the threat of invasion provided the metaphor for Lindsay’s preface. Australian art is ‘undefended, threatened by the same aliens, the same corrupting influences that undermined French art, both supported by powerful propaganda’. Modernism’s victory, he alleges, was not won ‘by honest fighting, but was written into existence by lurching critics, corrupted in most instances by interested dealers’. Lindsay next elaborates on Menzies’ sentiment: ‘a contributory cause in the fall of France – the writing was on the wall when the Jew Stavisky was discovered to have 27 Macintyre, Concise History, p. 162. 28 Ibid., p 173. 29 Sir Lionel Lindsay, Addled Art, A&R, 1942.


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bribed more than half the members of the Chamber of Deputies – modern art was the outward visible symbol of a spiritual malady’. Besides its Semitic context, the ‘freak’ of modernism, Lindsay declares, has its origins in ‘the age of speed, sensationalism, jazz, and the insensate adoration of money’. While he concedes that ‘because of the vileness of the Nazi persecutions, pity for the Jew is justly world-wide’, Lindsay evidently feels that this concession is sufficient to justify his attacks on Jewish dealers and artists. Modigliani is ‘the Italian Jew’, Chagall ‘the Russian Jew’. Picasso’s mind, in its ‘mercurial restlessness, expediency, flashness marks out not the Andalusian but the Jewish constituent in his character’. Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ Lindsay judges to have been ‘inspired by the Muse of Abortion’. Hope he finds in unexpected quarters: ‘Even the ultra-modernist poet T. S. Eliot recants, crying loudly upon tradition as he lapses into the arms of Mother Church.’ Modernist painters’ worst crime was in ‘abolishing fine drawing’. Lindsay’s final chapter is a trenchant call for ‘Return to Subject’, but he has particular subject matter in mind. The painter Tom Roberts had informed him of ‘the importance of painting our characteristic life, which he rightly centred in the pastoral industry’. Of like mind was the art critic J. S. MacDonald. Seriously wounded at Gallipoli (when he was 37), MacDonald studied the art of camouflage and was commissioned as a war artist in 1918, as Streeton had been. His study of another renowned Australian landscape painter was published in 1916 as The Art of Frederick McCubbin. After the war MacDonald abandoned painting for art criticism; he was director successively of the National Gallery of New South Wales and the National Gallery of Victoria. There his attacks on modern art and especially the 1939 Herald exhibition led to his dismissal in 1941. Sir Keith Murdoch, owner of the Herald and sponsor of the exhibition, was chairman of the trustees of the gallery. Again in common with Lindsay, MacDonald’s preference was for the Australian bucolic and the moral virtues that it was supposed to foster. Of the work of McCubbin’s friend Streeton, MacDonald said: ‘we can be the elect of the world, the last of the pastoralists, the thorougbred Aryans in all their nobility’.30 Nostalgic depictions of rural life are judged the epitome of Australian art as Lindsay and MacDonald advocate this version of what and where the veritable Australia is, and should be.

Little magazines and anthologies Plenty disagreed. In the second number of Australian New Writing in March 1944 (there would be only four, appearing in each year from 1943 to 1946), V. G. O’Connor assailed Addled Art, beginning with an epigraph purportedly from the erstwhile painter Adolf Hitler: ‘Cubism, Dadaism, Futurism, Impressionism and the rest have nothing in common with our German people.’ Prichard was one of the editors of Australian New Writing, which may explain its dual direction: to the world at war, and to the continuing 30 Quoted in Robert Hughes, Things I Didn’t Know, Random House, 2006, p. 214.


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daily life in Australia.31 Prichard’s novels were dedicated to revealing working Australia to itself, notably the timber industry in Western Australia in Working Bullocks, the opal-mining fields of New South Wales in Black Opal (1921), the pastoral industry in Coonardoo, the gold-fields in a trilogy published in 1946–50. But she was also a founding member of the Communist Party of Australia in 1921 and author of a laudatory account of Russia, where she had travelled in 1933. Proudly reprinted in the magazine is a cable of New Year’s greetings from the presidium of the Union of Soviet Writers in Moscow. We have a rant from David Hyman on ‘Literature and the People’s War’, but also understated stories of the Melbourne waterfront from John Morrison (another communist) whose place of work it was. French author Romain Rolland, who the editors falsely claim was killed in a Nazi concentration camp in 1943, provides what is effectively the epigraph for Australian New Writing: ‘Art, in truth, is always involved in the battle of its age.’ Born in fervour – cultural and political – this ‘little magazine’ had the short and hectic existence common to the breed. But it was also contemporary with the beginnings of magazines that would have astonishing, long, and as yet unfinished lives. Southerly, ‘The Magazine of the Australian English Association’, was first published in September 1939.32 There were stories by Dal Stivens and Kylie Tennant, and an essay on ‘Psychoanalysis and Poetry’ by A. D. Hope, which denounced the encroachment of the former on literary criticism. (Hope would be quoted as one of ‘our critics’ by the editors of Australian New Writing: ‘It is not surprising to find their puerile view of present day history matched with an equally puerile view of the duty of the artist.’) The first number of Southerly also had poems by James McAuley and Harold Stewart, who in 1944 would conceive the Ern Malley hoax while stationed at the Victoria Barracks in Melbourne, and by the Professor of Greek at Sydney University, Enoch Powell, who would shortly leave to enlist in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment – as an Australian. Both of his poems, obliquely, quietly, were concerned with the coming of the war. In 1940, in Brisbane, Clem Christesen founded perhaps the most important of Australian little magazines. Meanjin was purportedly named for the Aboriginal word for the land on which Brisbane stood. Its leanings were broad left, and it was less doctrinaire than Australian New Writing. In 1945 Christesen was enticed by the University of Melbourne to remove himself and the magazine south. There it has remained, often in fractious relations with its host. In effect, such magazines as Southerly and Meanjin were in each issue a mini-anthology. There had, however, been specific surveys of what Australia had to yield, for instance in the 1928 anthology Australian Short Stories, chosen by George Mackaness.33 The collection’s aims were patriotic and parochial. Selected were ‘representative stories 31 Australian New Writing, Current Book Distributors, 1943–6. 32 Southerly, Australian English Association, 1939. 33 George Mackaness (ed.), Australian Short Stories, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1928.


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written by native-born Australians’. They were drawn from ‘the cream of the thousands of Australian short stories typical of Australia and her “makers” ’. This was, Mackaness believed, the first such collection since the Bulletin Story Book of 1901. The contents list is a roll call of distinguished authors and of stories that would go on to become favourite anthology pieces, including Henry Lawson’s great, grim jest, ‘The Loaded Dog’; Edward Dyson’s ‘A Golden Shanty’; and Prichard’s ‘The Cooboo’. (Her Working Bullocks is described in passing as ‘probably the finest novel ever written in Australia’.) Here also, are works by Barbara Baynton, Louis Becke, Randolph Bedford, John le Gay Brereton, Marcus Clarke, Zora Cross, Ernest Favenc and H. M. Green, for ‘A Leander of the Hawkesbury’. Green’s own turn towards Australia’s Australia, An Outline of Australian Literature, was published in 1930. More indicative of the book’s purpose as a literary discovery of Australia are those titles which focus on one or other of the many distinctive national types. Here are ‘The Half-Caste’, ‘The Drover’s Wife’, ‘The Parson’s Black Boy’, ‘The Emancipist’, ‘The Tramp’. Another significant anthology, and the first in what would become a long, if intermittent series, was: Australian Stories 1941, selected by Cecil Mann.34 The contents were certified hygienic on the dust jacket: ‘Perhaps the most striking quality common to all these stories is their naturalness – a naturalness based on sincerity, absence of artificiality, acute observation, and imaginative insight.’ Frank Dalby Davison, who served with the British army on the Western Front, is represented by ‘Return of the Hunter’. This story tells of how ex-Great War sniper, Tug Treloar, kills a marauding dingo. Since demobilisation, he has experienced ‘a descent from glory’; ‘somehow life had run a fence around him’. Even the outback world of his youth has lost its savour. The hiatus of the war cannot be overcome. Here also are stories of miscegenation – Prichard’s ‘Marlene’ (evidently Mann had forgiven her for Coonardoo) – and of life on the dole by Tennant; a Depression story, ‘Dry Spell’ by Marjorie Barnard, which identifies ‘apathy’ as the chief enemy to Australian society and ends in the optative mood: ‘We must take up the burden of remaking our world.’

Concluding: disgruntled patriotism, acrid optimism Others were not so sanguine. In 1943, Bean, official Great War historian and prime mover behind the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, let alone chief proponent of the legend of Anzac, wrote a book of disgruntled patriotism, War Aims of a Plain Australian (1943).35 He lamented the deadness that fell on Australia between the two wars – deadness in political, social and religious efforts – the deadness of vision that led every party in Australia to seek external safety in isolation when the only system that could offer security to even the most powerful nation was a collective one – for this deadness we are all of us responsible. 34 Cecil Mann (ed.), Coast to Coast, A&R, 1941. 35 C. E. W. Bean, War Aims of a Plain Australian, A&R, 1943.


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How just is this reckoning? What can be conceded and what contested in Bean’s view of Australia in that interregnum of peace? In his ambivalent poem from four years earlier, one of the many to bear the title ‘Australia’, A. D. Hope reflected on the native land to which he had returned after a not altogether satisfying time at Oxford. First encountered was ‘A nation of trees, drab green and desolate grey’. Human creativity had, it seemed, produced nothing, for this was a country ‘Without songs, architecture, history’. ‘The river of her immense stupidity’ flooded ‘her monotonous tribes from Cairns to Perth’. Then comes one of the most famous reversals (and puns) in Australian poetry: Yet there are some like me turn gladly home From the lush jungle of modern thought, to find The Arabian desert of the human mind, Hoping, if still from the deserts the prophets come . . .

Hope nimbly shifts from metaphorical to literal desert; turns away from ‘modern thought’ and implicitly from Europe, to see what Australia might make of itself. This is an acrid optimism that has its counterparts, in many different registers, in the responses to Australia’s Australia that have been considered here.



The short story, 1890s to 1950 bruce bennett

Short stories are written by individuals but they are influenced by other writers, critics and publishers. More than other literary genres, short stories are dependent on newspapers and magazines or anthologies for first publication. The literary activity of short story writers may therefore be represented as an individual struggling for self-expression, but a more comprehensive and realistic view includes writers, editors, publishers and readers in a continual process of interaction – each adjusting or readjusting their role in relation to the others’ needs and requirements. This interactive process may affect the length of stories, whether they entertain or instruct, and their shape or form.1 This chapter will give most attention to individual short story writers and collections of their work from the 1890s to about 1950 in their literary, geographic and historical contexts. Special attention will also be given to newspapers and periodical publications as well as books, and responses to them by readers and critics. Questions of evaluation arise. For instance, can any Australian writer of short stories between the 1890s and 1950 be called ‘great’? A combination of favourable critical responses, contemporary popularity and sustained attention by publishers over time would place Henry Lawson in this category. But what does such categorisation mean? In particular, how are such qualitative judgments to be distinguished from commercial considerations? An example is the case of Steele Rudd, whose successful marketing and transmutations of his Dad and Dave stories into plays and films extended his reach beyond Lawson’s. Is Rudd really a master of the form, or just a populariser? Writing under the pseudonym Rann Daly, Vance Palmer sought to extend his range into commercial, or popular, fiction; Xavier Herbert, as Herbert Astor, attempted a similar challenge. Such role changes suggest a distinction in writers’ minds during this period between short fiction as ‘art’, or at least as considered literary form, and popular or journalistic short stories. The tension between these standpoints will be considered as this discussion proceeds. In retrospect, the 1890s to the 1950s can be seen as a period of high activity and competing demands for short story writers. From Jessie Couvreur (Tasma) and Rosa Praed to Katharine Susannah Prichard and Marjorie Barnard we can see the strength of writing by women in this genre. Lawson and Rudd may seem the dominant male 1 See Bruce Bennett (ed.), ‘Introduction’, Cross Currents: Magazines and Newspapers in Australian Literature, Longman Cheshire, 1981, pp. ix–xii.


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names, but Vance Palmer, Hal Porter, Frank Dalby Davison, Alan Marshall and Peter Cowan indicate a surprising range of approaches and styles in short fiction by men.

Predecessors, 1850s to 1880s The first century of writing and publishing in Australia was dominated by the urge to tell stories, only a fraction of which found their way into newspapers, magazines or books. The short story as a consciously shaped literary form in 20th-century Australia has its roots in the 19th century and owes much to the often highly literate writers and publishers of newspapers and magazines. In particular, the prominence of the short story before 1890 owed much to the editors and publishers of the Australian Journal (1865– 1962), the Australasian (1864–1946), the Colonial Monthly (1867–70) and the Town and Country Journal (1870–1919). Any attempt to discredit the life of the short story in Australia before the rise of Lawson in the 1890s should be resisted, as Cecil Hadgraft’s anthology The Australian Story Before Lawson (1986) demonstrates. Special attention should be given in the midto late 19th century to short stories by John Lang, Mary Fortune, Marcus Clarke and Tasma. Lang’s short story output includes Botany Bay, or True Tales of Early Australia (1859), published by Ward Lock in London, and Fisher’s Ghost and Other Stories of the Early Days in Australia, published by E.W. Cole in Melbourne. Lang is an interesting case of an Australian expatriate whose literary career, initiated in Australia, continued to blossom in Britain and India despite (or thanks to) the ‘larrikin’ element in his personality discerned by his biographer Victor Crittenden.2 Although best known in Australia for his stories of the convict period and its aftermath, Lang also used his forensic skills as a lawyer to dissect British colonial society in India. Lang was published in Dickens’ Household Words, Fraser’s Magazine and other prominent British periodicals as well as in the Mofussilite – a newspaper which he edited in India. Mary Fortune wrote articles, stories and poems under the pseudonym Waif Wander for the Australian Journal, but restricted herself mainly to crime stories from the 1870s to 1909. She became a genre writer before her time, foreshadowing female crime writers of the late 20th century such as Jennifer Rowe and Jan McKemmish. Fortune’s collection The Detective’s Album (1871) represents a small sampling of seven stories from the hundreds she wrote for the Australian Journal. The contribution of Marcus Clarke to short story writing in Australia is enormous. Many of his stories first appeared in the Australasian and the Colonial Monthly. Three volumes were published in his regrettably short lifespan of 35 years, and a fourth after his death in 1881. The influential writer and critic Michael Wilding brought Clarke’s 2 See Victor Crittenden, John Lang: Australia’s Larrikin Writer, Barrister, Novelist, Journalist and Gentleman, Mulini, 2005, p. xii.


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short fiction back into prominence with his University of Queensland Press Portable Australian Authors edition of 1976 and the subsequent volume Marcus Clarke: Stories (1983). Clarke’s humorous, anecdotal Bullocktown stories prefigure in some respects Henry Lawson’s ‘upcountry’ stories. Clarke’s speculative fiction, somewhere between essay and narrative forms, resurfaced a century later in the 1970s and 80s as a new generation of Australian writers grappled with the demands of fantasy and science fiction. Couvreur, under the pen name Tasma, wrote a number of stories first published in the Australasian, the Australian Ladies’ Annual and other periodical publications in the 1870s. Some were brought together in A Sydney Sovereign (1890). Born in London, Couvreur moved to Tasmania (hence her pen name) as a small child. She suffered a failed marriage in Victoria, and spent long periods in Europe. After obtaining a divorce, she married a Belgian journalist and lived in Brussels. Michael Ackland’s edition of A Sydney Sovereign in 1993 has returned Tasma’s nuanced and artful stories ‘Monsieur Caloche’ and ‘The Rubria Ghost’ to well-deserved contemporary notice.

The 1890s legend revisited Literary historians are prone to create and sustain special formative periods in a nation’s literature which then act as a turning point in their narratives. The Renaissance (now more often called the period of Early Modern English Literature) plays this role in histories of British literature; and the era of Transcendentalism has been called upon in some American histories. In Australia, we have the 1890s. This decade has attracted many competing definitions and interpretations as to both function and value. An influential book has been Vance Palmer’s The Legend of the Nineties (1954), which noted a commonly expressed view of the ‘romantic aura’ that suffused ‘the last days of a dying century’ and influenced subsequent views of the period. From this mindset, it followed that there was a ‘quickening’ of Australian culture in the 1890s, especially in its literature, and that this was informed by the expression of national ideals leading to Australia’s formation as a nation in 1901. Ken Stewart has described the saturation publicity for a view of Australia as a ‘young’ country in advertising and popular culture: In the 1890s Australia could be represented as a beautiful and athletic young woman, her torch lighting the future; or a young bushman or axeman, an allegorical emblem of industry; or a baby blowing bubbles, na¨ıve, lovable, immature, or a little boy, often from Manly.3

But Palmer and subsequent commentators on the 1890s did not buy this line. Palmer, for example, recalls the economic depression and the narrow and isolationist view that 3 Ken Stewart (ed.), ‘Introduction’, The 1890s: Australian Literature and Literary Culture, UQP, 1996, pp. 1–2.


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prevailed in white Australia’s attitude towards China and the Aborigines. This critical stance towards social attitudes and ideology reached its apogee in Humphrey McQueen’s damning indictment of political and cultural attitudes he found in this decade in A New Britannia (1970), from a 1960s ‘new left’ perspective. The chief proponent of a positive legend of the 1890s is Russel Ward in The Australian Legend (1958). Ward’s generally celebratory account of proletarian radicalism and democratic values proposes a ‘noble frontiersman’ as the chief symbolic figure of the 1890s. However, Ward does not romanticise the harshness of conditions in which his itinerant bush workers and poets operate: he celebrates rather the spirit of endurance, stoicism, irony and hope in which these were faced by his predominantly male writers. Australia’s first major literary historian, H. M. Green, was also struck by ‘a mood of confidence and romantic optimism’ in the 1890s which would darken during two world wars and breed ‘disillusion’ in the 1950s, when Green wrote his History of Australian Literature (1961). Along with the ballad, the short story was the literary form to watch: for it demanded ‘less literary experience and staying power’ than the novel and gave the ‘gifted amateur’ a chance to shine.4 Hence the short story could be considered both relatively representative and democratic. Green’s history set a pattern in giving primary attention to Lawson’s short fiction both for its representative Australianness and its artistry. In The Australian Tradition (1958), A. A. Phillips brought together notions of Lawson as a ‘craftsman’ of short stories and an Australian democrat. The generation of Australian literary historians in the 1980s and 90s were less likely than Green to single out the 1890s as Australia’s formative literary decade and gave less prominence to the short story as its distinctive genre. Leonie Kramer’s Oxford History of Australian Literature (1981) is divided into three genres – fiction, drama and poetry – and gives no special attention to the short story or the 1890s. Literary histories of Australia edited by Hergenhan (1988) and Bennett and Strauss (1998) do not give special or separate status to the 1890s when they consider literature in an extended period from the 1850s to World War I; though, in the latter history, Susan K. Martin does offer a revisionist account of the 1890s from a feminist perspective.5 Elizabeth Webby’s Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature (2000) does not privilege the 1890s or the short story in its section on fiction from 1900 to 1970. However, claims and counterclaims for the short story in the 1880s and 90s are discussed in Bennett’s extended study of the genre, Australian Short Fiction: A History (2002).6 This Cambridge History volume reasserts the strength and variety of short fiction by Australians by giving separate chapters to achievements and developments in the genre from the 1890s to 1950 and 1950 to the present. The varying treatment of the 1890s by literary historians can be better understood in the context of several book-length studies by literary critics, cultural theorists and 4 H. M. Green, A History of Australian Literature, vol. 1, pp. 573–4. 5 See Bruce Bennett and Jennifer Strauss (eds), The Oxford History of Australian Literature, OUP, 1998, pp. 89–104. 6 See Bennett, Australian Short Fiction: A History, UQP, 2002, chs 2–3.


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editors of anthologies. Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s selection of critical essays The Australian Nationalists (1971) adopts a conventional view of cultural nationalism in the 1890s, but the essays he collects dig beneath surface appearances in their studies of a canon dominated by Lawson (four essays), Furphy (three), Baynton, Paterson, Brennan and O’Dowd. Leon Cantrell’s anthology The 1890s (1977), on the other hand, has a wideranging selection of stories, verse and essays. Cantrell’s introduction states that ‘the short story or sketch has come to be regarded as the nineties’ most characteristic literary product’.7 But Cantrell draws on verse and essays as well as stories to argue that the 1890s are marked by ‘a sense of alienation and loss’; the stories by Lawson, Baynton, Dorrington, Dyson and others express ‘the horrors of outback life’; that ‘egalitarian mateship is less common than loneliness and betrayal’; and that most writers, like their readers, lived in cities rather than in the bush. John Docker’s The Nervous Nineties (1991) benefits from previous studies, but broadens the canvas into popular culture. Docker gives little attention to the short story as a genre, but concludes that the decade was a golden age of literary journalism, feminism and fantasy literature, which was not dominated by nationalistic sentiment.8 In a lively introduction to a selection of critical essays, The 1890s (1996), Ken Stewart considers the literary evidence and notes the popularity and increasing influence of romance Australian-style. Stewart returns to the short story as a powerful genre in this decade. Drawing on Cecil Hadgraft’s research, Stewart notes that 140 collections of stories had been published before 1894, when Lawson’s first volume appeared. But what takes Lawson to the top of this list for Stewart is his achievement in instituting ‘an original and proletarian voice and innovative forms’.9

National and international influences: The Bulletin and Louis Becke Legends of the 1890s attach themselves to the Bulletin magazine, and with good reason. Taking its name from the San Francisco Bulletin, the Sydney Bulletin was founded in 1880 by J. F. Archibald and John Haynes. It overcame early financial and production problems to attain a character of its own in the late 1880s, and thereafter became a national legend. The success of the Bulletin can be attributed in large part to its expanding stable of alert, vigorous and ambitious prose writers who for the most part accepted Archibald’s preference for ‘sturdy nouns’, strong verbs and a ‘boil it down’ dictum that discouraged sub-plots or elaboration. The Bulletin became known as a vehicle for vernacular ‘bush realism’ during the Archibald years, and particularly from 1896 to 1906, when Archibald was assisted by A. G. Stephens as editor of the literary 7 Leon Cantrell (ed.), The 1890s: Stories, Verse and Essays, UQP, 1977, p. xiii. 8 John Docker, The Nervous Nineties: Australian Cultural Life in the 1890s, OUP, 1991, pp. 233–41. 9 Stewart, The 1890s, p. 8.


The short story, 1890s to 1950

section known as the Red Page. One of the triumphs of this editorial duo was that it attracted working men to the magazine as writers, readers or listeners. Yet the Bushman’s Bible, as the Bulletin was sometimes called, was much more than this, as indicated in studies mentioned previously by Cantrell, Docker and Stewart. The actual catholicity of the Bulletin has been brilliantly demonstrated in Sylvia Lawson’s The Archibald Paradox (1983), in which she describes the magazine as ‘a parade of expressive tricks and marvels – a whole print circus’, with Archibald, the editor, as ‘circus master’.10 A. G. Stephens brought an international flavour, critical acumen and flair to the Red Page. European classics were not simply to be revered: they were to be considered as practical resources for Australian writers. Stephens also exhorted teachers and parents to instil a love and respect for Australia, reminding them ‘in how many ways Australia is worthy to be loved – both the actual land and the national ideal’.11 This grafting of an Australian cultural nationalism with an international outlook set a pattern for later cultural nationalists such as Vance Palmer, who was similarly influential. In the first five years of the 1890s, three short story writers of international stature visited Australia – Robert Louis Stevenson in 1890–1, Rudyard Kipling in 1891 and Mark Twain in 1895. None of these was a metropolitan writer. The Scot, the Indian-born Englishman and the American all had distinctive styles, settings and subject matter. To an emergent generation of Australian short story writers, these three writers were of special interest. Although authors of short stories in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were often intent on reproducing Australian settings and dialogue, a number recognised that they needed to consider patterns and styles of writing from elsewhere, as Stephens had proposed. Twain’s famous deadpan style of narration, Kipling’s vernacular realism and Stevenson’s ability to create atmosphere and tension interested Australian writers, and influenced some. Each of the visitors wrote chiefly about men and reinforced notions that short fiction was especially suited to ‘frontier’ societies and situations. The national frontier for Australians has most often been defined as the ‘outback’ – those relatively unexplored regions of inland Australia where the way of life contrasts most dramatically with life in the cities. It is interesting therefore to find Archibald and the Bulletin encouraging readers to think also of the Pacific Ocean and its islands as an alternative Australian frontier of the literary imagination. This redefinition occurs in the short stories of George Lewis Becke who, as Louis Becke, became the most prolific short story writer of his time following his debut in the Bulletin, publishing eight volumes of his stories in the 1890s and another 10 before his death in 1913, most with the well-known London publisher, Unwin. Becke’s stories of the Pacific were compared with those of Stevenson, and he was also described as ‘the Rudyard Kipling of the Pacific’. These writers were known to each other. Becke met Kipling in London. After Stevenson’s death in 1893, Becke wrote 10 Sylvia Lawson, The Archibald Paradox: A Strange Case of Authorship, Penguin, 1983, p. xi. 11 See Stephens, ‘Henry Lawson’s Poems’, in Colin Roderick (ed.), Henry Lawson Criticism, 1894–1971, A&R, 1972, p. 14.


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an appreciative commentary about him in the Sydney-based Town and Country Journal, which prompted Stevenson’s widow to write to Becke that her husband had taken a ‘keen interest’ in Becke’s work and had hoped to talk with him. The interest was mutual. Becke was clearly a reader of Stevenson and Kipling and was also compared with Herman Melville as a chronicler of life on the high seas. More surprisingly, Becke was sometimes compared with Joseph Conrad. In fact, Conrad was a highly introspective, totally different kind of writer. Conrad himself recognised this. After reading Becke’s first volume of stories By Reef and Palm (1894), Conrad said he admired ‘the perfect unselfishness’ in Becke’s telling of his stories.12 Becke’s reading of, and interaction with, these celebrated authors was precisely the kind of attention to major artisans that A.G. Stephens recommended to all writers for the Bulletin. In Becke’s case, there was little danger of an ‘anxiety of influence’ in his interaction with European and American writers. Becke had done his fieldwork during an adventurous career as a trader in the South Pacific. He grew up at Port Macquarie, New South Wales, but left school at 14 and sailed to San Francisco with an older brother. He returned to Sydney for a time and in 1872 stowed away on the Rotunah for Samoa. From this time until 1886, Becke worked mainly as a trader in the Pacific Islands, where his adventures included working for the American pirate and blackbirder, Captain W. H. ‘Bully’ Hayes. For two decades before Stevenson’s death, Becke had been running a small trading cutter between islands such as Upolu, Savaii and Tutuila.13 While there were hints in some British newspapers that Becke’s stories were ‘indebted’ to Stevenson, the Bulletin correspondent Massingham responded vigorously that Becke’s stories were incomparably stronger than Stevenson’s, ‘which seem to me clearly derived from [Becke’s]’: ‘No one dreams of comparing [Becke’s] total achievement with Stevenson’s, but in Becke’s special sphere Stevenson is a weakling by comparison; all his art fails to reach the eloquence of Becke’s simple touch of nature.’14 H. M. Green was more measured and cautious: ‘Becke’s range and understanding are much wider and more thorough, and he could do some things that Stevenson could not.’15 Becke’s biographer, the American academic A. Grove Day, judiciously remarks that such comparisons are invidious because neither tried to rival the other on his home ground: Stevenson, a highly civilized refugee from Western Europe, always saw the South Seas as a region of mystery and paradox, and only with great pain was able to make a home in the rain-forest heights above Apia. Becke was Pacific-born, and grew up doing jobs that at the time were not tinged with any sense of glamour.16 12 A. Grove Day, Louis Becke, Random House, 1966, Preface and pp. 133, 137. 13 Ibid., p. 133. 14 From the Bulletin, 4 April 1896, cited in ibid., p. 135. 15 H. M. Green, A History of Australian Literature, Pure and Applied, rev. edn, A&R, 1984, vol. 1, p. 569. 16 Grove Day, Louis Becke, p. 136.


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These comments seem apt. Stevenson’s artful narration and sense of the exotic serve a romantic worldview, whereas Becke, more closely acquainted with his region, regards life in the Pacific with the practised eye of a trader who considers himself a realist.17 The ‘touch of nature’ in Becke’s stories that the Bulletin correspondent praised was a virtue sought by many contributors to the magazine’s pages. It implied a rejection of literary artifice and sentimentality. In keeping with this approach, Becke’s tales of encounters between white traders and Indigenous people in the South Pacific often include direct and unsentimental narratives of relationships, personal and sexual. Such relationships are not subjected to subtle psychological analysis. Becke’s first published story in the Bulletin, ‘’Tis in the Blood’ (1893), sums up in its title the author’s view of the power of instinct and passion in human lives which can disrupt families and communal bonds. As a counter-balance, Becke also shows the durability of community and blood ties among islanders in the Pacific who can resist the short-term blandishments of traders and other white invaders of these islands. The majority of Becke’s tales are told by white traders such as himself. But ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ in By Reef and Palm presents problems of race and social conflict from a Polynesian point of view. Becke’s story focuses on a Polynesian widow who observes that in sexual matters the white nations are ‘as the beasts in the forest – the wild goat and the pig – without reason and without shame’. Their ‘heat of desire’ overcomes their moral scruples. The story she tells the white man is a parable, in which a rich foma’i (doctor), weary of the routines of white people, settles on an island where he has many lovers including the speaker herself. But the doctor revisits his home country, Australia, and returns to the island with a white wife, who is ostracised by the islanders. The white woman and her husband seem cursed, as do their two children. She leaves the island but her husband stays behind, marries a local woman and has three healthy children. This, it seems, is the triumph of Polynesian society, which accepts certain outsiders and absorbs them into its social fabric. It should be noted, however, that other stories by Becke show disruption to traditional ways of living in the Pacific islands caused by the white intruders. As author and commentator, Becke presents himself as neither an imperialist nor a reforming radical, but as a travelling trader who looks upon good and bad with ironic humour and enjoys the spectacle of changing fortunes in the exchange of goods and relationships in the Pacific.

Australian pasts revisited: Ernest Favenc, Price Warung Two phases of Australian history are recalled in stories by Ernest Favenc and Price Warung – the era of exploration and the age of convictism. By the time the Bulletin 17 See Bruce Bennett, Homing In: Essays on Australian Literature and Selfhood, API Network, 2006, pp. 147–55.


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commenced publishing Favenc’s tales of exploration in the early 1890s, he was known as the author of a monograph on Western Australia and a history of Australian exploration. Favenc’s special interest was in the tropical northern areas of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. After migrating from England in 1863, he worked on cattle stations in North Queensland. In 1877, he led an expedition to study the possibility of a transcontinental railway line to Darwin. Favenc’s accounts of his travels in outback Australia established him as a latter-day explorer, but his tales and historical romances used history and geography as authenticating devices for exploration of the dark side of human nature. Favenc’s first collection, The Last of Six: Tales of the Austral Tropics, was published by the Bulletin company, third in its series of book publications. This volume was revised and republished in London in 1894 as Tales of the Austral Tropics. A scholarly edition of the latter volume was edited by Cheryl Taylor and published in the Colonial Texts series in 1995. Taylor has remarked that Favenc’s ‘authoritarian and judgmental attitudes’ were those of ‘the North Queensland frontier where he worked as a young man’. The predominant point of view in his stories is that of the explorer on his own or the isolated station owner. Attitudes towards women, Aborigines and the Chinese are of his time. At its best, Favenc’s short fiction recreates the sense of space, heat and aridity of northern Australian landscapes and their toll on white Australians. A number of Favenc’s characters are driven mad by the land. In ‘Spirit-Led’ for instance, the stifling heat of the Gulf of Carpentaria country provides a setting and atmosphere for an out-of-body experience reminiscent of Conan Doyle.18 Rolf Boldrewood’s preface to The Last of Six enthuses about Favenc, the intrepid explorer–writer who has ‘tempted the Desert Sphinx, gazed upon gold matrix and opal hoards which gleamed in mockery of the exhausted wanderer’. These comments refer to Favenc’s story ‘A Haunt of the Jinkarras’, in which fanciful speculation rivals Rider Haggard’s novel King Solomon’s Mines (1885) but without Haggard’s narrative drive. The confidence shown in Favenc’s tales by the Bulletin editors shows how open the magazine was to fiction that could move from documentary realism to metaphysics and fantasy. William Astley, who wrote under the pseudonym Price Warung, migrated as a small child to Melbourne from his birthplace in Liverpool, England. Astley became an itinerant journalist in country towns before settling in Sydney in 1891. A socialist in outlook, he opposed British imperialism in his adopted country. The convict system became his principal target. Warung’s exhaustive research into convicts and convictism in Australia was turned to dramatic effect in ironic and satiric short stories. In restricting stories to about 3000 words or less, the Bulletin set a pattern that persisted in newspapers and magazines for most of the next century. An avid reader of documents and lengthy historical accounts, Astley was spurred by Archibald’s ‘boil it down’ approach to create characters representative of the System and place them in 18 See Ernest Favenc, The Last of Six: Tales of the Austral Tropics, Bulletin Newspaper Co., 1893, pp. 35–49.


The short story, 1890s to 1950

stories that usually turn on a single major incident. Somewhat less prone to theatrical flourish than his predecessor in tales of the convict period, Marcus Clarke, Astley nevertheless used techniques of melodrama to heighten his effects. Astley interviewed a number of survivors of the convict system before they died. As Barry Andrews observed, Astley’s narratives are often organised around several static, striking scenes with a strong climax. Narrative develops from dialogue or from the author or editor.19 In his worst moments, says Andrews, ‘Astley grips his Victorian quill with a railler’s zeal’, but he is at his best when detached ‘behind a satiric mask’.20 Warung’s prominence was due largely to his series ‘Tales of the Early Days’ in the Bulletin 1890–2. When he left the Bulletin’s payroll to assume editorship of the Australian Workman, Astley’s output declined, partly due to ill-health and addiction to drugs. But his interlinked tales around the figure of Convict Hendy showed a continuing attachment to a field of storytelling he had made his own.

Lawson and legend Lawson’s first published story, ‘His Father’s Mate’, appeared in the Bulletin in December 1888 when he was 19. His first book Short Stories in Prose and Verse was published by his mother, Louisa Lawson, in 1894. The Bulletin and Lawson’s mother were major formative influences on him as a short story writer. However, the literary territory which Lawson forged grew largely from his feelings about his Norwegian Australian father, Niels Hertzberg Larsen (Peter Lawson) and the land which he, Louisa and their sons settled at Eurunderee, between Gulgong and Mudgee, in New South Wales, in the late 1860s and 70s. In 1883, Louisa and Peter Lawson separated when Louisa moved to Sydney and became active in publishing and the women’s movement. Lawson’s deafness from the age of nine and the discord between his parents play their part in psychoanalytic studies of Lawson (for instance Xavier Pons’ Out of Eden: Henry Lawson’s Life and Works, 1984). Whereas Becke and Favenc, for example, could be described more straightforwardly as ‘masculine’ types, Lawson’s sensitivity could be seen as ‘feminine’. A. G. Stephens wrote in 1895 that ‘it is the woman in him . . . that makes his talent glow to the white heat of genius . . . His capacity for emotion is Lawson’s best gift.’21 The ‘inward’ quality in Lawson’s most celebrated short stories grows from his poetic ability to capture the emotion of a moment. The Lawson legend grows from projections of the man and his writings onto an incipiently national stage. In 1893, the visiting English journalist Francis Adams proclaimed that, ‘The one powerful and unique national type yet produced in Australia . . . is that of the Bushman.’22 Two years later, Stephens pronounced that Lawson was ‘the voice 19 Price Warung, Tales of the Convict System, ed. B. G. Andrews, UQP, 1975, p. xxx. 20 Ibid., p. xxxi. 21 Stephens, ‘Henry Lawson’s Poems’, p. 14. 22 Adams, The Australians: A Sketch, T. Fisher Unwin, 1893, p. 165.


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of the bush, and the bush is the heart of Australia’.23 Christopher Lee has attempted to locate the birth of the Lawson legend in a phase of national and personal insecurity, characterised by ‘The first wave of feminism, the great economic depression, the defeat of Labor in the national strikes of the 90s, together with the end of the century anxieties over the future of both the Empire and the genetic hygiene of the Anglo-Saxon type . . . ’24 A predominant note in Lawson’s short fiction is nostalgia for a world of men and action (and perhaps for his father’s world of work). Lawson located his fiction chiefly in the region of his childhood and youth between Mudgee and Gulgong, ‘out west’ from Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, where he lived most of his adult life. Lawson took excursions further west in New South Wales to Bourke and beyond and he also spent periods in Western Australia, New Zealand and London. From the 1880s Lawson knew he was a problem drinker, and some of his travels were attempts to escape the temptations of easily accessible alcohol in Sydney. Not surprisingly, an internal debate about ‘Sydney or the bush’ recurs in Lawson’s overlapping autobiographical writings and short fiction. A crucial point came for him around the turn of the century when he turned to the rhetorical use of the capital ‘B’ for Bush and Bushman. This coincided with his return from London, judicial separation from his wife Bertha, increasing alcoholism and mental instability, and a resort to rhetoric and repetition rather than experience to fuel his art. The editor of Lawson’s collected work, Colin Roderick, notes that Lawson, ‘uneducated in the leisured prose of the nineteenth century, wrote in the plain speech-based idiom of bush and slum’.25 Lawson wrote more than 200 short stories and sketches. What characterises the voice in his stories, Roderick acutely noted, was a sense that Lawson was speaking ‘confidentially, and not to a vast anonymous public’.26 This made his stories particularly well suited to later adaptations for radio. An important literary influence on his early fiction, Lawson himself said, was the American Bret Harte, whose stories of the California goldfields offered settings similar to those he knew and the kinds of informal dialogue used by itinerant American working men. But many of Lawson’s stories cut deeper than Harte’s when they dealt with the vulnerability of relationships and confrontations with mortality. As we have seen, publishers and editors of the Bulletin contributed to the increasing profile of the short story in the 1890s by producing single-author collections. Warung and Favenc were beneficiaries of this policy, and so was Lawson when his second volume, While the Billy Boils, was published by the Bulletin in 1896. The pressures of marketing are evident in classifications of Warung as the writer about convicts and Favenc about explorers. Lawson could not be classified so easily, for he wrote about city and bush with humour and pathos and introduced a variety of characters. Stephens’ 23 Stephens, ‘Henry Lawson: An Australian Poet’, Bulletin, 5 Jan. 1895, p. 3. 24 Lee, ‘The Emasculation of Henry Lawson’, Meridian, 13.1 (May 1994), p. 3. 25 Henry Lawson, Short Stories and Sketches, 1867–1922, ed. Colin Roderick, A&R, 1972, p xiv. 26 Ibid.


The short story, 1890s to 1950

comments about Lawson’s arrangement of stories in While the Billy Boils reflect an editor’s frustration at a book failing to exploit its full potential through poor construction and arrangement. Stephens likened Lawson’s second volume of stories to ‘a bad cook’s ragoˆut’ and contrasted it with Twain’s more organised approach with a set of characters who ‘pass from chapter to chapter’.27 Stephens’ hankering after the simplifying structures of a novel raises questions of aesthetics and genre. Arguments have raged about this issue since Stephens’ intervention. A comprehensive scholarly edition of While the Billy Boils is required.28 Discussions of poetic livres compos´es by Christopher Brennan and others in the 1890s seem not to have impacted on short fiction. But a different aesthetic from that of Stephens (and Roderick who followed Stephens’ precepts) has been presented by Brian Matthews. In Matthews’ view, While the Billy Boils has an ‘inner logic’ based on a ‘more or less though not tightly chronological sequence’: for ‘in the world that is evolving in the pages of While the Billy Boils change, rumour, distance, mistakes, and misrepresentations make a mockery of most “certainties” ’.29 If this postmodern aesthetic is preferred to Stephens’ call for coherence in the arrangement of Lawson’s work, Lawson’s second volume, While the Billy Boils, should be read in its original form. It can be considered then as a precursor to Frank Moorhouse’s ‘discontinuous fictions’ of the 1970s and 80s. A variety of reasons can be adduced for considering Lawson’s fifth volume of stories, Joe Wilson and his Mates (1901), his best. Perhaps the most convincing argument is that the Joe Wilson stories explore greater depths of feeling and layers of identity than early stories such as ‘The Man Who Forgot’ or ‘The Union Buries Its Dead’. Joe Wilson is presented as ‘a bushman with a past’30 – a past that reveals elements of Lawson’s personal traumas and confusions at this time leading to the breakdown of his marriage, his wife Bertha’s hospitalisation in an asylum and his own increasing alcoholism. Literary factors also play a part in the dramas of Joe Wilson and his Mates. Lawson’s period in London 1900–2 enabled him to get a feel for British editors and magazines, and he contributed to magazines such as Blackwood’s, Cassell’s, Chambers’ and The Argosy. New literary relationships with publisher William Blackwood and publishers’ reader Edward Garnett enabled Lawson to see the value of psychological realism in fiction without losing his Australian identity or sense of humour. Yet a sense of sadness permeates the scenes from a marriage in Joe Wilson and his Mates. In ‘Water them Geraniums’, one of the most powerful tales, a young couple setting out on married life in the Australian bush are forced to anticipate their future when they encounter ‘a gaunt, haggard bushwoman’ and her family who have been reduced to what seems an inhuman level of existence. Joe Wilson, the sensitive but indecisive 27 Stephens, ‘Henry Lawson’s Poems’, p. 14. 28 Paul Eggert and Elizabeth Webby are researching a new scholarly critical edition of While the Billy Boils. 29 Brian Matthews, ‘Henry Lawson’s Fictional World’, in Leon Cantrell, (ed.), Bards, Bohemians and Bookmen: Essays on Australian Literature, UQP, 1976, p. 182. 30 Brian Matthews, The Receding Wave: Henry Lawson’s Prose, MUP, 1972, p. 4.


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narrator, realises – ‘like a whip-stroke on my heart’ – that Mary and he would be worn down to this level if they remain in the bush. Above all, the anaesthetising of feeling, and the ability to care for others, seems threatened; and Lawson’s stories express the need, if not the resurgence of this capacity to care.

Expatriate writers, editors Since Lang in the mid-19th century, Australian short story writers had been exporting their literary talents to England and other countries. A running record of Australians in Britain is contained in the British Australasian (1884–1923), a London-based weekly. With Philip Mennell as editor 1892–1902, the British Australasian recorded the visits of many Australian writers in addition to Lawson. Some Australian writers, editors and publishers chose to stay in Britain for extended periods or even made it their place of residence. Marcus Clarke called these the ‘AAs’, or Anglo-Australians. Arthur and Harriet Patchett Martin were AAs who collected and edited substantial anthologies of Australian stories and verse in Britain from the late 1880s. Oakbough and Wattle Blossom (1888), edited by Arthur Patchett Martin, contains stories and sketches by Australians in England including Rosa Praed, C. Haddon Chambers, Douglas Sladen, Mennell and Martin himself. Harriet Martin’s selection, Under the Gum Tree (1890), was followed by Coo-ee: Tales of Australian Life by Australian Ladies (1891) who included Tasma, Praed, Margaret Thomas and Martin herself. Using Australian bush imagery as a form of exotica in the London metropolis, the Martins established a recognisable niche from which certain Australian writers could reach a wider audience. An anxiety about readership and belonging is evident in the introduction to Coo-ee, in which Harriet Martin expresses her hope that the stories in the anthology might ‘linger pleasantly around the Bush Station and by the English fireside’. Another expatriate editor and writer was Queenslander Lala Fisher, whose volume By Creek and Gully (1899) features stories by a wide range of expatriate writers in Britain including E. W. Hornung, Hume Nisbet and Becke. The most substantial Australian writer of fiction from British soil in this period was Rosa Praed, who published as Mrs Campbell Praed. Although she was principally a novelist, Praed also published selections of her stories including Dwellers by the River (1902), The Luck of the Leura (1907) and A Summer Wreath (1909). Many have Australian settings based on memories of her childhood and youth on properties in central and northern Queensland. Indeed, By the Book: A Literary History of Queensland (2007) reclaims Praed, along with a later expatriate short fiction writer, Janette Turner Hospital, as significant contributors to the literature of their home state. A tendency towards romantic and sublime descriptions of landscape in Praed’s fiction is counterbalanced by vignettes revealing the frequent discomforts of station life caused by centipedes, scorpions, mosquitoes and other creatures. Praed began writing in the 1860s when she was living on her family’s station in the Upper Logan; she


The short story, 1890s to 1950

maintained contact with station life from her adopted home in England through regular correspondence with her sister. Although Patricia Clarke’s biography Rosa! Rosa! (1999) gives little specific attention to Praed’s short stories, they represent an interesting microcosm of her work. Praed tends to work scenically – she wrote plays as well as novels and short stories. Her recurrent themes are romance and its frustrations, societal pressures to conform and spiritual inspiration and solace. Two stories in The Luck of the Leura, ‘Gwen’s Decision’ and ‘Aurea’, indicate something of her tonal range. In ‘Gwen’s Decision’, a snakebite leads in bizarre fashion to the happy resolution of a courtship. By contrast, in ‘Aurea’, a woman called Brenda who lives on a remote station contracts sandy blight – a form of acute conjunctivitis – and is blinded. When the woman’s younger sister, Aurea, arrives to help out, Brenda is consumed by jealousy at her husband’s evident attraction to her beautiful sister who seems like a younger spirit of the woman he had courted and married. Praed’s embrace of spiritualism and the occult takes many forms. Her most anthologised story, ‘The Bunyip’, draws on an Anglo-Australian fascination with this imaginary creature of Aboriginal legend. But the mythological Bunyip is also suggestive of a world beyond reach of the senses – a realm explored in different ways in some of Praed’s later novels. Whereas Praed made her whole writing career in Britain after she arrived there in 1875, Louise Mack and Barbara Baynton wrote and published significant short stories in Australia in the 1890s before they sailed for London in 1901 and 1902 respectively. Having published short stories in the Bulletin, Mack established herself in England and Italy as a prolific writer of light romance for children and adults. From 1904, Baynton moved regularly between Australia and Britain where she became a high society figure. Unlike Mack, Baynton did not publish much new work after her move to Britain. Fortunately, the strength and originality of Baynton’s Bush Studies (1902), first published by Duckworth in London on the recommendation of Edward Garnett, has been recognised by critics and by subsequent Australian writers including Vance Palmer, Peter Cowan and Thea Astley. Palmer wrote that there was something ‘savage and remorseless’ in Baynton’s stories, yet their ‘unshrinking honesty’ fascinated him. How had Baynton gained her experience of ‘this tough, primitive life which cut more deeply into the bone than anything written by Lawson?’31 Despite the small output, Baynton was compared regularly with Lawson; and in the 1980s, a feminist consciousness brought her short fiction to centre stage for a time. The edition by Sally Krimmer and Alan Lawson of Baynton in 1980 for the University of Queensland Press’s Portable Australian Author series helped to focus this renewed interest in her work. Two of Baynton’s stories have been regularly anthologised and analysed by literary critics – ‘Squeaker’s Mate’ and ‘The Chosen Vessel’. Both examine the degradation of women in the Australian bush. ‘Squeaker’s Mate’ bears the marks of Zolaesque 31 Palmer, Overland, 11 (Summer 1958), pp. 15–16.


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naturalism with its ‘objective’ treatment of a woman made mannish by a working life in the bush. She is the ‘mate’ of Squeaker who, as his name suggests, is more mouse than man – and a travesty of popular stereotypes of the courageous bushman. When Squeaker is accidentally crippled by a falling tree, she and her dog – a true mate – resist the callous disregard of the ignoble Squeaker and demonstrate the power of the survival instinct in all species. In ‘The Chosen Vessel’, a woman who lives with her child in an isolated hut in the bush is stalked and murdered by a lascivious bushman. In the longer version of ‘The Chosen Vessel’, which was excised from the Bulletin but reinstated in Bush Studies, a horseman passes by but is so caught up in private reverie that he fails to notice the stricken woman and her child. He is a travesty of the biblical good Samaritan. As Kay Schaffer has noted, Baynton’s writings ‘shake up, disturb and deflate masculine values’;32 they also show the powerlessness of institutions such as the church and schools to civilise white Australians.

Humour and nostalgia: Steele Rudd’s selectors Unlike Baynton’s white settlers living on the edge of savagery, Steele Rudd presents his small-time farmers as rough but likeable men and women whose sense of humour is their saving grace. Like Twain, Rudd has been described as a humourist, but this requires qualification. Rudd’s battlers pit their wits and bodies against the heat, drought and depressions of Australia and come through laughing. The events narrated in On Our Selection (1899), Our New Selection (1903) and later volumes generally occur in ‘the long safety of the past’, where they acquire ‘the glow of nostalgia, a little sentimental pride, and the magical effect of turning everything into merriment’.33 If Rudd’s characters are rudimentary philosophers, they are certainly not in the mould of Emerson and Thoreau: no school of Transcendentalism could be woven around these Australians’ homespun theories and observations. But they are dreamers and schemers. The narrator in ‘Dad’s Fortune’, in Stocking Our Selection (1909), watches his father looking out over the Great Dividing Range in eastern Australia and remarks: ‘Splendid country, Dad considered it – beautiful country – and part of a grand scheme in his head. I defy you to find a map more full of schemes than Dad was.’ Mother is not a reflective soul either: her prescribed role is to feed and clothe the family, and to provide a check on Dad’s excesses and follies. Dave’s fate is to be bitten by snakes and to be disappointed in love: he is Dad’s comic sidekick and, like the stuttering Joe, he represents the narrator’s (Steele Rudd’s) generation. Steele Rudd is himself an invention. The author, Arthur Hoey Davis, was born in 1868 in Drayton on the Darling Downs in Queensland and became a public servant, 32 Kay Schaffer, Women and the Bush: Forces of Desire in the Australian Cultural Tradition, CUP, 1988, p. 169. 33 Robert White, ‘Grim Humour in the Stories of the 1890s’, in Alan Brissenden (ed.), Aspects of Australian Fiction, UWAP, 1992, pp. 21–2.


The short story, 1890s to 1950

then a writer and publisher in Brisbane. He chose the name Steele Rudder in the early 1890s for humorous articles on rowing in the Brisbane Chronicle. The slightly truncated Steele Rudd was then given the dual roles of pseudonymous author and a member of the fictional Rudd family – not appearing as a character in his own narratives, however, until the seventh of the 10 Rudd volumes, From Selection to City (1909). Although described in the 1970s as a ‘failed artist’, Rudd enjoyed enormous popularity in his own lifetime.34 Other media assisted him. On Our Selection and other volumes were adapted for radio, stage and film productions. While the Dad and Dave routines were initially home-grown productions, expressing a distinctly ‘Australian’ character, they collided with Hollywood influences in Ken Hall’s Cinesound direction of On Our Selection in 1932. By 1938, in Rudd’s volume of stories Dad and Dave Come to Town, American influences recur, including the figure of the dumb blonde and the fast-talking newspaper reporter.35 Such influences seem not to faze Frank Moorhouse, however, who observes that Rudd’s characters of ‘the British white settler culture’ will represent ‘the Australian’ for the foreseeable future and that Rudd is ‘part of the bedrock of our culture’.36 More recently, Julieanne Lamond argues that Dad Rudd is ‘a figure who has come to haunt Australian politics as well as our culture’: he is one of the ‘ghosts of the ordinary that have been used to draw us together’.37

Immigrants and travellers The short story has served as a vehicle for immigrants and travellers in Australia since the early 19th century. Between 1900 and 1930, many writers in newspapers and magazines followed the influence of the Bulletin, the Lone Hand and Smith’s Weekly in encouraging anecdotal, ‘up-country’ narratives which highlighted the idiosyncrasies of Australian people and places. Nathan Spielvogel and Paul Wenz followed these leads from their German Jewish and French backgrounds respectively. Scot Hume Nisbet and Englishman E. L. Grant Watson also reflect these tendencies. A school teacher in the Wimmera district of Victoria, Spielvogel presents himself in his first volume A Gumsucker on the Tramp (1906) as a wanderer in the Jewish tradition but also as a patriotic Victorian (a gumsucker – because colonial Victorians were supposed to suck the gum from acacias). Spielvogel’s short stories in his first and subsequent volumes give voice to men and women of the ‘way back’ Wimmera district of Victoria where he taught. Wenz’s European background also interacted with his Australian experience – in his case as a farmer in New South Wales. Born in 1869 in Reims to a German father and French mother, Wenz was educated in Paris where one of his fellow pupils 34 35 36 37

See Van Ikin, ‘Steele Rudd as a Failed Artist’, Southerly, xxxvi.4, pp. 363–76. John Tulloch, Australian Cinema: Industry, Narrative and Meaning, A&U, 1982, p. 30. ‘Introduction’, in Moorhouse (ed.), A Steele Rudd Selection, UQP, 1986, p. xv. Lamond, ‘The Ghost of Dad Rudd, On the Stump’, JASAL, 6 (2007), p. 31, .


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was Andr´e Gide. Under the pseudonym Paul Warrego, his first book of stories, L’Autre Bout du Monde (1905), was published in Paris and was followed by Sous La Croix du Sud (1910). While bringing their European origins into their narratives, both Spielvogel and Wenz were principally interested in a strange new world. Born in Stirling, Scotland, in 1849, Nisbet visited Australia in the 1860s, 80s and 90s. His prolific output includes many stories which present Australia as a remote and exotic land, as in The Haunted Station and Other Stories (1893). An Australian-born Chinese detective, Wung-Ti, appears in several of Nisbet’s novels and stories. In Nisbet’s melodramatic tales, showing the influence of Walter Scott and Maria Edgeworth, Australia is a country haunted by its colonial past. Grant Watson’s short stories derive from a more modern, scientific standpoint. His book Innocent Desires (1924) contains seven stories set in Australia, which derive from several visits from his native England. Watson was a member of Alfred Radcliffe-Brown’s expedition to study the marriage customs of Aborigines in north-western Australia in 1910–11. This experience informs a number of his stories which question European conventions and show the power of the unconscious and instinctual behaviour. In Watson’s stories, sexual desire crosses ethnic boundaries and threatens ‘civilised’ behaviour. Stories of travellers from Australia to other countries in this period are exemplified in A. G. Hales’ stories of war and adventure in South Africa and elsewhere in Camp Fire Sketches (1902), where the hardships of the Australian bush are a perfect prelude to war on the veldt. Harley Matthews’ Saints and Sinners (1918) and William Baylebridge’s An Anzac Muster (1921) show the contrasting literary styles and attitudes to war of a realist and a fabulist respectively.

Indigenous pioneer: David Unaipon Unaipon’s Native Legends (1929) is the first published collection of stories by an Aboriginal Australian. In his short memoir, My Life Story (1951), Unaipon describes his upbringing as a member of the Narrinyeri tribe on the lower Murray river in South Australia. Like his father, Unaipon was ‘educated and trained’ by the Aborigines Friendly Association missionaries at Point McLeay Station. Unaipon says that ‘the Aborigines greatly resented the incursion of the newcomer in their domains’ and that they were ‘shattered by contact with white civilization’. Nevertheless, he concedes that Christian missions gave Aborigines ‘the inner Power to reconstruct their lives’.38 Native Legends contains legendary tales of Aboriginal Australia, cross-fertilised with Christian imagery and narrative. Yet his focus remains firmly on his Aboriginal subjects – their beliefs, values and behaviour. A central concept is ‘telepathy’, which enables Aboriginal people to communicate across distances without speech and to empathise 38 See Unaipon, My Life Story, Aborigines Friendly Association, 1954.


The short story, 1890s to 1950

with fellow creatures.39 White civilisation has diminished this capacity to communicate telepathically. Unaipon’s legends dramatically realise his belief in ‘the companionship of earthly creatures’.40 In ‘Youn Goona the Cockatoo’, for instance, he employs several levels of discourse to show how humans, birds and animals can interact. These occur at an ethereal or spiritual level, in the natural world, or in domestic circumstances. Unaipon is especially adept at mimicking Youn Goona the spirit Cockatoo speaking with his spirit wife Bhoo Yooah. But his range also extends to demonstrating the savagery of the natural world, as in ‘Kinie Ger, the Native Cat’.41 Unaipon’s stories derive principally from his Narrinyeri people but they seem to float free of all communal constraints in their protean, shape-shifting play with imagery and narrative modes. In ‘Hungarrda’, subtitled ‘Jew Lizard’, the lizard is totemic and Aboriginal and also an Old Testament prophet who can sing of a journey whose travellers are ‘cast forlorn and shipwrecked upon the shore of a strange land’. In such moves, Unaipon draws his readers towards different modes of understanding from those of well-meaning white Australian writers who seek a rational social justice for Aboriginal Australians.

Realists and romantics: Katharine Susannah Prichard and Vance Palmer Prichard and Palmer are the two most consistent Australian exponents and advocates of the short story genre in the first half of the 20th century. They each published four volumes of stories, which are complemented by many reviews, interviews, articles and essays that show their engagement with the genre both as artists and critics. Prichard’s son and biographer, Ric Throssell, has written that a short story published in a magazine or newspaper was often the only way his mother had of ‘earning a few pounds in the bad years of the Great Depression’ but that even then she saw a short story as ‘a work of craftsmanship rather than a mere potboiler’.42 Prichard’s stories were first published in ladies’ journals or magazines such as Steele Rudd’s Magazine and the Bulletin, and she won the Art in Australia short story competition in 1924 with ‘The Grey Horse’. Forty-six short stories are included in Prichard’s Kiss on the Lips (1932), Potch and Colour (1944), N’goola (1959) and Happiness (1967). Prichard’s aesthetic was that of a realist with a focus on the subject rather than herself. In a talk for ABC radio in Perth in 1940, she claimed to ‘dislike all subterfuges and tricks of the trade for gaining effects’, and invoked a realist’s ‘honesty’ while 39 See Susan Hosking, ‘Introducing David Unaipon’, in Nena Bierbaum, Syd Harrex and Susan Hosking (eds), The Regenerative Spirit, Lythrum Press, 2003, passim. 40 David Unaipon, Native Legends, Hunkin, Ellis & King, [1932?], pp. 4–5. 41 See Unaipon, Aboriginal Legends, no. 1: Kinie Ger, the Native Cat, Hunkin, Ellis & King, [192?]. 42 Cited in K. S. Prichard, Tribute: Selected Stories, ed. Ric Throssell, UQP, 1988, p. viii.


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admitting that ‘every artist creates his or her own technique, derived of course, from the technique of all the others, or as many as can be assimilated’.43 Prichard’s early model was de Maupassant’s Contes Normands and she observed the French writer’s maxim that ‘psychology in a novel or story exists in this: to show the inner person by their life’. Yet the anthropologist was a stronger influence than the psychologist as she strove to reveal ‘ways of living’ in Australia. Prichard’s stories are infused with place, whether it is the Darling Range east of Perth in ‘The Grey Horse’ or ‘The Cow’, the eastern goldfields of Western Australia in ‘The Siren of Sandy Gap’ or the north-west of Australia in ‘The Cooboo’. In each case, the physical and social environment enters the lives of individuals and shapes them. The author’s method of storytelling is to adapt her voice to these different environments – from the gentle, observed narratives of people and incidents around Greenmount to the apparently casual prospectors’ yarns in the goldfields and the songs and stories of Aboriginal women in the north-west. Throughout her career, Prichard was a communist and an Australian cultural nationalist. When she travelled to New York early in her career, she was told that her stories were too Australian. But she turned against commercial, formula fiction and later earned the praise of left-wing American writer, journalist and historian C. Hartley Grattan.44 Influenced early by political exiles from Russia whom she had met in Paris in 1908, who told her of ‘the struggle for a different social system in their country’, Prichard was also deeply affected by the Great War in which her brother was killed.45 Her desire for peace and social justice and her reading of Marx and Engels led Prichard to join the Australian Communist Party in 1920 as a founding member. This guiding light of her early career as a short story writer and novelist limited her creativity in later work, such as her story ‘Communists are Always Young’. Prichard’s Aboriginal stories, along with her novel Coonardoo (1929), bring together her beliefs, ideals and compassion and provide a different perspective from Unaipon’s. They reveal her as both a realist writer and romantic. In ‘The Cooboo’, the Aboriginal baby of the title is the focus of his mother’s frustration and suffering and he becomes a symbolic victim of the wider tragedy of the Aboriginal people. A later story, ‘N’goola’, follows an old man’s search for his daughter who was stolen by white authorities; the story ends with the reunion of the pair. The latter story is more focused on issues of social injustice in black–white relations than the former and was dedicated to the Australian Trade Unions which ‘defend . . . the struggle of all peoples for peace and a good life’. Like Prichard, Palmer was a student of the short story, was socially engaged and was influenced by European realists such as de Maupassant, Chekhov and Gorky. But the 43 K. S. Prichard, Straight Left: Articles and Addresses on Politics and Women’s Affairs, Wild & Woolley, 1982, pp. 126–7. 44 Laurie Hergenhan, No Casual Traveller: Hartely Grattan and Australia–Connections, UQP, 1995, p. 34. 45 See K. S. Prichard, Why I am a Communist, Current Book Distributors, [195?], p. 7.


The short story, 1890s to 1950

trajectory of his career in short fiction was different from hers. Palmer learnt the vagaries of short fiction by adapting to the requirements and expectations of different Australian magazine publishers including those of the Bulletin, the Triad and the Australian Journal. Indeed, Palmer’s short fiction offers ‘a useful reference point for the study of magazine culture during the 1920s and 1930s’.46 Whereas Prichard became fixed on notions of realism, Palmer took more notice of the modernists and his later stories have a reduced emphasis on plot. Palmer wrote in 1944 that ‘a short story may be a dialogue, a study of character, a poetic reverie; anything that has a certain unity and movement of life’.47 As a broadcaster and literary commentator, Palmer championed the short story. By the 1940s he saw it as a special form for its times. The critical attention given to Palmer’s later short fiction culminating in Let the Birds Fly (1955) has overshadowed his earlier collections The World of Men (1915), Separate Lives (1931) and Sea and Spinifex (1934). Spanning the Great War and Depression, these volumes avoid melodrama in their representation of moments of insight into the lives of men and women in Europe and Australia in situations of adversity. While the lessons of the European realists are generally observed, Palmer’s early work also registers a quiet compassion in his treatment of the ‘separate lives’ of his characters and their historical situations. Between 1920 and 1924 he wrote a number of potboilers under the self-mocking pseudonym Rann Daly but subsequently returned to more serious fiction. From ‘Father and Son’ (The World of Men), to ‘The Red Truck’ (Let the Birds Fly) Palmer shows situations in which father–son relations are tested. In Let the Birds Fly, though, a number of stories explore the psychology of girls and young women and their various rites of passage. In ‘The Rainbow-Bird’ (Sea and Spinifex) Palmer engages the reader in a pre-adolescent girl’s apprehensions of mortality; and in ‘Matthieson’s Wife’ (Let the Birds Fly) his narrator reflects on the life of a young woman married to an old man in a country town. What gives this story intensity and complexity is the ebb and flow of the narrator’s feelings, both sexual and romantic. Despite his disillusionment, romance springs eternal.

Women at crossroads: Richardson, Stead, Barnard In Australian as in British fiction, women have often been criticised as authors and promoters of a false romanticism. George Eliot analysed this trend in her essay ‘Silly Novels by Lady Novelists’ (1856). In early- to mid-20th-century Australia, Henry Handel Richardson, Christina Stead and Marjorie Barnard tested and often rejected conventional romance in their fiction. 46 Roger Osborne, ‘Behind the Book: Vance Palmer’s Short Stories and Australian Magazine Culture in the 1920s’, JASAL, 6 (2007), p. 61, . 47 Vance Palmer, Coast to Coast: Australian Stories, 1944, A&R, 1944, Foreword.


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Richardson’s The End of a Childhood (1934) contains a long story, ‘The Adventures of Cuffy Mahony’ – an extended postscript to Richardson’s trilogy The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (1930) – followed by sketches of childhood and youth and stories of death and dying in Europe. With the addition of two stories, this volume was republished by Angus & Robertson as The Adventures of Cuffy Mahony and Other Stories in 1979. Richardson’s ‘sketches of girlhood’ reject common notions of romance and entertain a broader view. ‘ “And Women Must Weep” ’, for example, presents a girl/young woman being dressed by her female guardians for her debutante’s ball and the awful anticlimax of the occasion. Other stories show the attraction of young women for each other. In ‘Life and Death of Peterle Luthy’, set in old Strasbourg, Richardson’s feminist views are powerfully expressed through Mamsell Mimi, a barmaid in a popular restaurant who lives freely and robustly and recognises that ‘men were too great a nuisance: one had always to be dancing to their tune’. Nevertheless, women’s responsibilities to the species are recognised: they bear the children and sometimes, as in this story, bury them too. Like Richardson, Stead’s contribution to short fiction is overshadowed by her novels. Yet Stead’s The Salzburg Tales (1934) and later stories collected in the posthumous volume Ocean of Story (1985) have great literary merit. Likewise Stead’s four novellas in The Puzzleheaded Girl (1967) demonstrate her ability to write with dramatic force in shorter forms. The Salzburg Tales are a reminder of the power of dreams, magic and fantasy in Stead’s fiction. Stead has traced the origin of these tendencies to her father’s storytelling when she was a child, which included Aboriginal legends, the Arabian Nights and tales of the brothers Grimm.48 Conceived from the first as a single book, The Salzburg Tales follows in the tradition of Boccaccio’s The Decameron and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and was inspired by the author’s memories of a visit to the Mozart Festival in Salzburg in 1930.49 Stead’s volume contains 40 stories largely orchestrated by the figure of the Jewish Centenarist in Salzburg, who organises centenary festivals in honour of the great composers. Historical figures from the cultures of Europe ranging from Mozart to Don Juan are dramatised. The tales proliferate in forms including jokes, legends, anecdotes, folk and horror stories. Ocean of Story contains stories of a generally more realistic cast than The Salzburg Tales, set in Australia, Europe, America and Britain. Autobiography, narrative and commentary combine in a volume that features the observations of a peripatetic traveller and thinker. From ‘The Hotel-Keeper’s Story’, set in post-war Switzerland, to ‘1954: Days of the Roomers’, set in London, and ‘Lost American’, set in Paris, Stead reveals the gains and losses of the transient life. Many of the individuals in these stories seem ‘lost’ in the cities of the world where their fates reflect Stead’s understanding of the human condition. 48 See Stead, Ocean of Story: The Uncollected Stories of Christina Stead, ed. R. G. Geering, Viking, 1985, p. 4. 49 Chris(tine), Williams, Christina Stead: A Life of Letters, McPhee Gribble, 1989, p. 102.


The short story, 1890s to 1950

Unlike Richardson and Stead, Barnard was also a historian. Her literary joint ventures with Flora Eldershaw included biographical histories of Australia’s early settlement by Europeans. Like Palmer and Prichard, Barnard and Eldershaw saw a role for themselves in contributing to a national culture in the inter-war years. Most of Barnard’s stories in The Persimmon Tree (1943) were published previously in the journal Home or the annual Coast to Coast. The title story is Barnard’s most anthologised work: ‘short, matured and succinct’, as Barnard and Eldershaw had described Palmer’s short fiction at its best. But the territory it traverses is different: the situation of lonely, middle-aged women in the city is depicted with sensitivity but an avoidance of sentimentality. The imagery, rhythms and controlled emotion in ‘The Persimmon Tree’ align it with modernist poetry of the inter-war years. Barnard remarked in 1981 that short stories were ‘the most private sector’ of her literary output.50 ‘The Broken Threshold’ in the posthumously published collection But Not for Love (1988) reveals some of the difficult ‘private’ territory in Barnard’s short fiction. This story examines two kinds of self-sacrifice, that of a missionary and a woman who stays at home. When the missionary dies he seems transfigured, while the homebody remains unnoticed and alone. If thwarted relationships and lost love hover around this story, the inner life of the protagonist, Bethia, reveals her as rebellious and alive in spirit.

Men at work: Herbert, Casey, Davison, Marshall Despite an increased number of Australian newspapers, magazines and journals which published stories or sketches between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bulletin remained a favourite among recognised male authors. Xavier Herbert, Gavin Casey, Frank Dalby Davison and Alan Marshall, for example, all published in the Bulletin. Their stories hark back to the ‘bush realist’ tradition of the 1880s and 90s while engaging with contemporary applications of mateship and masculinity. The world of work extends notions of the outback to tropical northern Australia, the eastern goldfields of Western Australia, rural Victoria and southern Queensland. Herbert’s short stories range from the 1920s to the 1950s. Russell McDougall’s Xavier Herbert: South of Capricornia (1990) collects those first published under various pseudonyms in magazines such as Smith’s Weekly and the Australian Journal between 1925 and 1934. The Australian Journal, edited by Ron Campbell, carried the majority of these male adventure romances with illustrations highlighting the melodramatic incidents with which they were laced. Many of the stories have a Boys’ Own flavour. The only volume of Herbert’s stories published in his lifetime, Larger than Life (1963), contains 20 from the 1930s to the 50s, most of which first appeared in the Bulletin. 50 Barnard, Author Statement, The Contemporary Australian Short Story: special issue of Australian Literary Studies, 10.2 (Oct. 1981), p. 188.


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Some have been anthologised, including ‘Kaijek the Songman’ (1941) and ‘Miss Tanaka’ (1963). These show Herbert was capable of producing complex stories with plausible situations of inter-racial tension. Casey’s stories of the Western Australian goldfields in It’s Harder for Girls (1942) and Birds of a Feather (1943) recall Lawson’s from eastern Australia a half-century earlier. They also recall Harte and Twain. Yet the boisterous comic element which sometimes erupts in the fiction of his predecessors is seldom found in Casey’s stories. They are characterised by the quiet desperation of men and women who struggle to make a living and give meaning to their lives. In ‘Short-Shift Saturday’ two of the narrator’s workmates have learnt that they are dying of ‘the dust’. They seek diversions from their confrontations with death in drinking beer, sexual adventures, practical jokes and storytelling. Casey’s images of the town and its mines (based on the Kalgoorlie he knew) are graphic. This is frontier Australia enjoying itself while it can. But the narrator is troubled. His marriage is drifting, he wants to restore contact with his wife but seems unable to do so. A mood of melancholic nostalgia also appears in other finely tuned stories by Casey such as ‘That Day at Brown Lakes’. Casey’s version of this new Australian frontier features the low-key disillusionment of ordinary Australians rather than a triumphant pioneering venture. Davison’s first book of stories, The Woman at the Mill (1940), is dedicated to Vance and Nettie Palmer and acknowledges the Lawson bush realist tradition. Like Herbert and Casey, however, Davison puts his own stamp on the Bulletin legacy in the interwar years. While Davison’s boyhood in rural Victoria influenced him, the stories in The Woman at the Mill are set in marginal farming country in south-east Queensland where Davison farmed as a soldier settler from 1919 to 1923. As in Lawson’s Joe Wilson stories, Davison’s stories test the proposition that the Australian bush is ‘no country for a woman’. The nomadic impulse is strong in Davison’s men and this links them with the Indigenous people rather than white women whose typical wish is to ‘settle down’. If Herbert, Casey and Davison seem temperamentally at odds with their environment, Marshall is a physical misfit. Known as ‘the polio kid’ because he contracted poliomyelitis and was crippled when he was six, Marshall enacts in his five collections of stories and his best-selling autobiography I Can Jump Puddles (1955) the role of a sympathetic outsider who has learnt to overcome his disabilities. Marshall’s title story in his first volume, Tell Us About the Turkey, Jo (1946), presents the point of view of a boy who tells of various accidents and injuries which have befallen him. When a new baby sister is born, Jo insistently tells how he was once chased by a turkey. This comical and serious attempt to gain attention demonstrates the boy’s psychological vulnerability and his need for reassurance. Subsequent stories show a search for camaraderie among working men and reinforce the sense of a broader human need for mateship and solidarity.


The short story, 1890s to 1950

Looking backwards and forwards: Peter Cowan Cowan’s first two books of stories, Drift (1944) and The Unploughed Land (1958), derive largely from his experience as an itinerant farm labourer in the south-west of Australia in the 1930s and service in a clerical role for the Royal Australian Air Force in Victoria in World War II. Later he taught at Scotch College and the University of Western Australia where he was an editor of Westerly 1963–93. Cowan’s influential career looks backwards towards aspects of the bush realist tradition, forward to impressionism, surrealism and other experiments in the genre. Although Cowan’s stories of itinerant bush workers link him with Lawson and Rudd, his technique in the 1940s already showed a shift towards modernist forms of expression. During the war, Cowan became acquainted with Max Harris and the Angry Penguins group as well as John and Sunday Reed and painters such as Albert Tucker and Sidney Nolan. He was also learning from American writers, when he could find them in the bookshops, including Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway, Faulkner and Dos Passos. Cowan’s first volume, Drift, has a cover by Tucker and 15 stories in three sections: ‘Yesterday’, ‘Between’, ‘Now’. Two had previously appeared in Angry Penguins, one in Coast to Coast. The fact that Cowan was published in Angry Penguins and not the Bulletin indicates a change from other Western Australian short story writers of the 1940s such as Henrietta Drake-Brockman and John K. Ewers. Cowan’s realist-impressionist style builds on Palmer’s later work, while the most noticeable overseas influences are Chekhov and Hemingway. Like them, Cowan gives close attention to external detail but his main theme is the impact of depression, war and the Australian landscape on individuals. Spare with his language, like Hemingway, Cowan experimented with structure and style, moving in his seventh volume, Voices (1988), to an expressive minimalism. As editor of Westerly, Cowan encouraged writers to experiment with short fiction, and Westerly became a vehicle for a wide array of storytelling modes. The Depression and war years were the crucible in which his dedication to short fiction was forged. Cowan’s views have continued to challenge young writers to test the limits of short fiction: It is the form and pattern, the style, the degree of implication possible, the whole business of technique, which gives the short story its significance as a literary form. The pleasure in writing a short story comes from trying to adapt these formal and aesthetic considerations to the subject; the pleasure in reading, of course, from discovering the successful blend.51

As Stephen Torre shows in Chapter 19, many blends of short fiction vied for attention in the latter half of the 20th and the first decade of the 21st century. 51 Cowan, Author Statement, ibid., p. 196.



Australian drama, 1850–1950 peter fitzpatrick

From one perspective – the one that has until recently dominated attempts to map Australian drama and theatre in the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries – the terrain looks decidedly barren. Writing for the theatre added to the challenges faced routinely by the post-colonial novelist or poet (the discovery of a distinctive voice and a willing publisher) the problem of actually getting the script to the stage, and of finding the many willing and able hands that were necessary to take it there. The successes were few, and modest at that. Louis Esson’s Pioneer Players staged five full-length plays in Melbourne from 1922 to 1926 and 12 one-acters, only two of the seasons lasting for more than ‘one consecutive performance’, as Esson wryly put it. Yet the playwright somehow gained in this context a heroic importance that seems incongruous in the light of the Pioneers’ record and standard of production. It suited the myth to see the writer as an intrepid explorer in a barren land, and to adapt the powerful Australian iconography of a continent empty and unknown at its heart. Esson certainly liked to see himself as that kind of pioneer, and the fact that his journeyings mostly ended in disaster simply added to the strength of the metaphor and the status of the playwright. The myth rested on the assumption that there were no footprints in that particular desert. It was a seductive idea, seemingly confirmed during the first six decades of the 20th century by the almost complete absence of plays by Australian writers from the commercial stage. The related perception that Australian drama through the century is a series of births, deaths and renaissances owes something to shifts in the national culture and economy, but perhaps even more to the systematic denial and forgetting of what had gone before. From another perspective – the one that now prevails in Australian theatre histories – the landscape is a much more fertile one. Pockets of lively activity are visible everywhere, not just in cities but in remote country towns. Richard Fotheringham observes that ‘For just under one hundred years – from 1832 until 1930 – live theatre flourished as a commercial industry in Australia.’1 Its popularity, he argues, is to be understood not merely in terms of a desire for diversion but as part of a complex and defining set of 1 Richard Fotheringham (ed.), ‘General Introduction’, Australian Plays for the Colonial Stage, 1834–1899, Academy Editions of Australian Literature, UQP, 2006, p. 1.


Australian drama, 1850–1950

evolutionary rituals by which a colonial society compensated for being a long way from ‘home’: By the 1860s the largest cities could expect perhaps a hundred different professional productions of many kinds every year: grand opera, comic opera, Shakespeare, society comedy, ‘problem’ play, melodrama, pantomime, vaudeville and variety. . . . The importance of all this activity is unquestionable; any history of Australia in the period to 1830 written as if such cultural institutions did not exist or were marginal to more serious subjects is missing major sites of public activity, discourse and display. In a society largely devoid of the pre-industrial European festivals, British Australians turned for their pleasure-making to horse-racing carnivals, sporting contests and the theatre. Because these occasions were where people from different classes and walks of life were seen in close proximity at the same time, they in turn became the dominant metaphors of a society trying to imagine itself as a diverse yet unified community that shared common interests and concerns.2

And the ‘tyranny of distance’, which was conventionally understood to exacerbate the creative isolation of the artist, was clearly much less of an obstacle than might have been expected.3 As scholars like Veronica Kelly have shown, touring between the colonies, and even between Australia and New Zealand, was a common element of the theatre in the last two decades of the 19th century.4 Entrepreneurs such as George Coppin and Harry Rickards, and the ubiquitous ‘Firm’ of J. C. Williamson, both established performance companies in the capitals and imported marquee names from Europe to travel more widely. Williamson’s list of stars included Dion Boucicault in 1885, Janet Achurch in 1889 and Sarah Bernhardt in 1891, while Harry Rickards around the turn of the century took performers like Marie Lloyd, W. C. Fields, Florrie Ford and the escapologist Houdini on his standard circuit through Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. The economics of bringing a costly headline act to the Antipodes depended on making the most of all the significant population centres that Australia had to offer, and regional towns such as Geelong and Newcastle frequently saw them too. The seasons were characteristically short, but that resulted in a regular turnover of attractions rather than long periods between drinks.5 2 Ibid., p.xxiii. 3 The term was coined by Geoffrey Blainey for the cultural consequences of the vast distances between the pockets of settlement scattered along the eastern and southern coasts of Australia, and between their developing urban character and ‘the outback’. 4 Williamson had extensive interests in a number of theatres in New Zealand, and several in South Africa. As Barbara Garlick notes, tours to Asia were also relatively commonplace. Australian companies performed, to mostly British expatriate audiences, in India, China, Japan, the Philippines and Java: ‘Touring’, in Philip Parsons and Victoria Chance (eds), Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995, pp. 609–12. 5 Harold Love notes that the pattern of the short run applied equally to the resident joint stock companies: ‘in the 1860s it was not unusual for a theatre to offer five or six different programmes in the course of a week with two or more items – at the very least a three-act drama and a farce – on each programme’. He cites John Spring’s doctoral research on Melbourne theatre in that decade, which identified 12 356 performances as having been given of 1223 works, of which the most popular (Hamlet) played for just 95: ‘Stock Companies, Travelling Stars and the Birth of “The Firm” (1854–1900): Summary of Theatrical Events’, in Harold Love, ed., The Australian Stage: A Documentary History, UNSWP, 1984, p.56


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These signs of colonial communities vigorously seeking entertainment and cultivation seem at odds with the unsympathetic terra nullius through which Esson saw the Australian playwright attempting to forge a path. These conflicting accounts of theatre in Australia are not simply a case of the gap between a playwright’s self-adulatory perception and the social reality, nor of the historical constructions favoured by one generation of critics being exploded by the scholarship of the next. There is a measure of truth in both readings, and the sense that these are coexistent, as well as competing, explanations creates problems for anyone attempting a coherent overview. Thus Dennis Carroll, after noting that ‘In general, the nineteenth-century commercial theatre in Australia was far more encouraging to the local play than its twentieth-century counterpart’, can assert two pages later without any apparent sense of contradiction that ‘The birthdate of Australian contemporary drama can fairly be fixed in the year 1909, when an art critic, William Moore, presented the first of four Australian Drama Nights to decorous, welldressed middle-class audiences at Melbourne’s Oddfellows Hall.’6 In part what is at issue is a familiar implicit distinction between ‘theatre in Australia’ and ‘Australian Drama’: the former understood to be a matter of recorded performances, of works and dramatic subjects and writers and theatre artists who may or not be themselves Australian, and the latter involving stage plays by, for and usually about Australians. In part, too, there’s an assumption about what constitutes ‘Australian contemporary drama’, for which the seriousness of the writing is as much a prerequisite as the nationality of the writer. From the latter perspective, the key distinction is not in the end between local and non-local, but between commercial and literary theatre. This is the distinction that mattered for Esson when he wrote about the pioneering playwright’s need to find images of cultural distinctiveness and to bring them to the stage. In his own work, Esson sought those images in two areas. One was, predictably, the outback, the location of Russel Ward’s characterisation half a century later of ‘the Australian Legend’: According to the myth, the ‘typical Australian’ is a practical man, rough and ready in his manners and quick to decry any appearance of affectation in others . . . he is usually taciturn rather than talkative, one who endures stoically rather than one who acts busily. He is a ‘hard case’, sceptical about the value of religion and of intellectual and cultural pursuits generally. He believes that Jack is not only as good as his master, but, at least in principle, probably a good deal better, and so he is a great ‘knocker’ of eminent people unless, as in the case of his sporting heroes, they are distinguished by sporting prowess . . . 7

The ethos and manner of the stoical bushman sets the tone of Esson’s one-act plays Dead Timber (1910) and The Drovers (published in 1920, but unperformed until the Pioneers’ 1923 season), and is grimly followed all the way through depression to despair in the 6 Dennis Carroll, Australian Contemporary Drama, rev. edn, Currency Press, 1995, pp. 9, 11. 7 Russel Ward, The Australian Legend, OUP, 1958, p. 1.


Australian drama, 1850–1950

three-act Mother and Son (1923). A figure who characteristically does little and says less – and whose world seems to exclude so many of the feelings and thoughts that make life worth living, let alone worth writing about – is not a promising subject on which to build a national drama. Esson sought an alternative source for what might be unique about his country in the larrikin subculture of the city: one-acters like The Woman Tamer (1910) and Mates (1923) revel in it, while The Bride of Gospel Place (1926) employs it as a vivid backdrop for a doomed romance. He was attracted to this second line of interest as much for the social artifice that it rejected as for the reality it opened up: Nothing in our present society is wildly desirable, but, if one had the choice, it would be better to live in a slum area than in a bourgeois suburb. The slums have more character, perhaps base character, and decidedly more potentialities. Life is more vivid and picturesque there. People dance, and have passions, and live, in a sense, dangerously. In the suburbs, all is repression, stagnation – a moral morgue.8

For Esson, the cosmopolitan bohemian, both models were wonderfully exotic. He had never seen the outback, and his experience of the slums was confined to a few torch-lit tours in the reassuring company of a constable; but he knew, at least, which Australians he did not want to write about, and those were all the ones he knew. Esson is a particularly instructive case-study – for the definition of what an Australian play and an Australian playwright might be, for the preconceptions surrounding the idea of a national drama, for any analysis of the intersection of notions of the serious and the popular, the authentic and the imaginary, the derivative and the new. While he was not precisely representative of Australian playwrights of his time, he articulated – and, to some extent, enacted – a version of the nationalist aesthetic in its most extreme, but also its most coherent, form. It was not that Esson, and others who were similarly inclined to invent an Australian theatre, were unaware of other footprints in the sand. They saw them there, but chose not to take them seriously. Bert Bailey, the actor–director–producer of the immensely successful Dad and Dave plays based on Steele Rudd’s short stories, was certainly finding ways to reflect theatrically the qualities that Ward would later distinguish as elements of ‘the legend’ – the iconoclasm, the resilience, the scepticism, the roughness and the readiness. What Bailey saw, but Esson found perhaps demeaning, was the comic dimension of those versions of what was distinctively Australian. Something in his own temperament, or the model that he found at the Abbey Theatre in the Irish playwright J. M. Synge,9 or in his sense of what made for literary significance, persuaded Esson that 8 Louis Esson, ‘The Suburban Home’, Bulletin, 21 April 1911. 9 Esson eagerly embraced Synge’s encouraging words about the rich dramatic potential of the outback, with ‘all those shepherds going mad in lonely huts’. He did not take account of the cultural differences that made mad Irish solitaries at least poetically more interesting than grimly taciturn Australian ones – nor did he note the perverse and extraordinarily narrow conception of the dramatic on which Synge’s advice rested. For a detailed account of Esson’s work, see Peter Fitzpatrick’s dual biography Pioneer Players: The Lives of Louis and Hilda Esson, CUP, 1995.


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the appropriate dramatic genre for the depiction of Australia was either epic or tragic. He believed that Bailey’s version of the pioneer myth, and C. J. Dennis’ immortalisation of Melbourne’s larrikin culture, were worse than irrelevant: No decent Australian play has as yet been done professionally. On Our Selection and The Sentimental Bloke have done a lot of harm. But a few decent works would create a different impression of what an Australian play might be. We can only hope for the best.10

But the conspicuous footprints left by giants of the popular theatre like the actor– managers George Darrell and Alfred Dampier suggested a potential in the genre of comic burlesque that Esson refused to see. A play like Darrell’s The Sunny South (1883), for example, found its subject precisely in the conflicting claims of national and cultural affiliation that Esson experienced, but refused to admit, in either his polemics or his plays. The conventions of bush melodrama allowed Darrell, and a number of successors, to juxtapose the practical morality of the colonies, rough-hewn but true, with the tired or absurd protocols of the old world. The bluntness of a genial ‘Anglo-Australian’ hero like Matt Morley in The Sunny South might cause consternation in the drawing-room, and provides the basis for plenty of amusement in the audience, but it is consistently the agent of satire, not its target; the upstart from the colonies brings with him an energy that is presented as the only hope of reinvigoration for an effete English aristocracy. And he comes, conveniently, with a set of values that are the best of British: clarice: Do you like the Colonies? morley: Like ’em? No. clarice: No? morley: No – I love ’em – liking’s not the word. There’s a chance out there for everybody with pluck and determination, and there’s scope for brains as well as muscle. There’s freedom of opinion, liberty of the subject, and a reverence for the grand old Flag that waves over all!!!! ivo: You don’t go in for dynamite and disloyalty? morley: Not much! The Queen and the British Empire! And those who don’t like it, let ’em make tracks and clear out. ivo: Not a bad sort of place – I should not mind trying it myself. morley: Do you no end of good. Knock the masher la-di-da out of you in no time.11

When Morley comes into his British patrimony (with the necessary substance supplied by the money he has made on the Australian goldfields), there is no debate about what he is to do next. He returns ‘home’, of course, accompanied by his Currency Lass, Bubs, to claim and revivify the Chester estate. It is a compromised kind of national assertion, fed in part no doubt by Darrell’s ambitions of London success for his show. Darrell scored 10 Louis Esson to Vance Palmer, 20 January 1928, Palmer Papers, NLA, MS1174/1/3069. 11 George Darrell, The Sunny South, ed. Margaret Williams, Currency Methuen Drama, 1975, act 1, scene 1, p. 23.


Australian drama, 1850–1950

a notable triumph there in 1884, though it was cut short when, as Morley, he suffered a serious knife wound in one of the play’s regular lively skirmishes with bushrangers. Dampier took his bush melodrama Robbery Under Arms (1890), adapted from Rolf Boldrewood’s novel,12 to the West End a few years later, following its popularity at Melbourne’s Alexandria, but the critical response was dismissive. Dampier allowed his bushranger heroes to be morally reclaimed at the end; the love of a good woman brings out, and makes respectable, their intrinsic gentlemanliness as the curtain gently falls: miss aspen: Two bushrangers in the family – how romantic! starlight: Bushrangers no longer. But men, who having passed through the furnace, are purified, who have sounded the depths of true woman’s devotion, and are now contented, happy. aileen: And oh! How dearly loved!13

But for the London critics the glorification of bushranger heroism, and the treatment of the police as uniformly vicious and venal, was not to be condoned. Managing the transactions between the values of the local and parent cultures, between melodramatic convention and ‘real life’, and between nationalist populism and imperial loyalties, could be a tricky business. As the work of scholars like Fotheringham and Williams has shown, though, it was a territory that was surprisingly rich and much revisited in early attempts to put Australia on the stage.14 Not all the major commercial spectacles were bush plays. Marvellous Melbourne (1889), written (to some extent) by Dampier with J. H. Wrangham, was a loose miscellany of city life, starting at Spencer Street Railway Station and visiting most of Melbourne’s quirkier places, including a scene in a Chinese opium den courtesy of the outrageously stereotypical Hang Hi. The plot, such as it was, was a blossoming romance, culminating when the heroine’s horse duly saluted in the Melbourne Cup. The Argus critic observed tartly that ‘Every attempt has . . . been made to create fun by local allusion fit only for burlesque.’15 But the patchwork quilt created in the show was a wonderfully goodhumoured celebration of the city, and a rich repository of its history. That it was also shamelessly commercial was part of its charm – and part of the entrepreneurial boomtown that it represented. Mainstream (profitable) theatre has rarely found common cause with alternative (financially disastrous) theatre, and the theatrical attempts to market or explore 12 Dampier’s adaptation was attended by the novelist on opening night, who seems to have approved, and was certainly delighted with the boost to royalties from his novel. It followed a series of successful dramatisations of Marcus Clarke’s novel For the Term of His Natural Life under the pointed title, His Natural Life, in particular those by George Leitch and Dampier (with Garnet Walch), in 1886. 13 Alfred Dampier and Garnet Walch, Robbery Under Arms, Currency Press, 1985, act 5, scene 2, p. 112. 14 Margaret Williams, Australia on the Popular Stage, 1829–1929: An Historical Entertainment in Six Acts, OUP, 1983, offers a detailed (though still not exhaustive) account of the subject, which reflects the spirit of rumbustious enterprise that characterised it. See also work of non-academic historians such as Eric Irvin, Australian Melodrama: Eighty Years of Popular Theatre, Hale and Iremonger, 1981 and John West, Theatre in Australia, Cassell Australia, 1978. 15 Argus, 21 January 1889.


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conceptions of a distinctive Australian identity through this period reflect those predictable tensions. But perhaps the critical consideration, in trying to understand the contradictory characteristics of the theatre of the time, is the status and legitimacy of the script. For Esson, the script was a complete creative work; the international theatre of his time was a story of the great playwrights – Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg and Shaw, and then O’Neill and the ideological challenges of early Brecht. For Dampier and Darrell, the script was the relatively negotiable playground in which actors with stuff to strut met a public that paid to be interested and entertained, and of all the components in that transaction the script was the one that had the greatest potential for change. The variety format in which writers like George Darrell placed their stories and invested their finances was open to almost infinite adaptation, in response to current events or fortuitous newcomers to town; Fotheringham has shown how immediate and integral was the relationship between theatre programs and sporting events, for instance, which meant that celebrities like the victorious horse and jockey in the Melbourne Cup, or the touring England cricketers, could always be accommodated in a featured role.16 Esson’s kind of theatre could never find room for a racehorse. On the other hand, its emphasis on the integrity of the script tended to mean that actors were functionaries and directors an unnecessary luxury; the amateurism of the Pioneer Players, in the end, was less a matter of whether or not the company was paid, than of the lack of genuine knowledge as to how a theatrical production might work. Esson, who had no theatrical experience at all, found nothing particularly strange in being the man who directed the casts of his plays at the Pioneers; Darrell, who would have seen his theatrical know-how as the precondition for anything he came up with as a playwright, approached the business from a different direction altogether. The disjunction between theatre as a public profession and drama as a solitary art influences every debate about the state of Australian theatre, from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the next.

The discovery of a voice Each of the worlds in which Esson sought to dramatise the distinctiveness of his culture came with the attractions of its own idiom. The bushman myth founded its points of epic climax on the power of understatement. Ward’s emphasis on the taciturnity of that figure, his avoidance and distrust of things emotional, is directly reflected in Esson’s choice of minimal monosyllables for the moment in The Drovers when Alec the Boss farewells the mortally injured Briglow Bill, his best mate for more than 20 years, and the drover who has to be left behind if the rest of the cattle drive is to have any chance of getting through to its destination: 16 Richard Fotheringham, Sport in Australian Drama, CUP, 1992.


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alec: So long, old mate. briglow: So long, Alec.17

The words gain meaning from all the things that are not able to be said. But it is a card that cannot be played too often, and reflects a profound limitation for the playwright who sets out to stage the archetypal conflict between man and nature that is at the heart of the outback myth. It exacerbates the more general problem of representing elemental action within the frame of the proscenium stage; The Drovers does not present the stampede that is its catalyst, but deals with the sequence of halting leave-takings that is its aftermath. Stampedes, like natural disasters, are not particularly suited to the stage. Dorothea McKellar in ‘My Country’ may have felt, as she claimed, that ‘For flood and fire and famine / She pays us back threefold’, but for the playwright the savage moods of the sunburnt country proved a tough and unrewarding subject. Similarly, the world of the urban ‘push’, though its denizens were mostly more quaintly loquacious, was hard to move beyond first impressions. As Dennis found, its hard-boiled vernacular left some room for human feeling, but predominantly of a comic and sentimental kind. That was not the self-consciously significant kind of theatre that Esson wanted to write; nor, of course, like the legendary world of Briglow Bill, did it have much to do with Australian culture as it might be recognised or lived by the people sitting in the stalls. The notion that their reality was too bland or too boring for dramatic representation was not a promising basis for a contract between playwright and audience. The success of the Bert Bailey comedies, like that of The Sunny South 20 years earlier, rests partly in its local idiom – just as David Williamson, Jack Hibberd, John Romeril, Alexander Buzo and other New Wave playwrights of the late 1960s and early 70s delighted their audiences by presenting them with a version of the way Australians really spoke, obscenities and all. Dramatically, though, the effectiveness of these adventures in language depended on their juxtaposition with other ways of speaking that were conspicuously not Australian at all, and that were often wide open to satiric attack for their stuffiness or affectation. That tendency was given an added dimension in the bush melodramas, where the retrospective focus of their plots gave some of the outback vernacular a charm and quaintness that was already playing to cultural nostalgia. The nobly-born Morley in The Sunny South reflects his colonial experience through the rhythms of his speech more than his idiom. Matt speaks normally in exclamations, as a sign of his splendid virility; his loyalty to the Empire (‘the grand old Flag that waves over all!!!!’), though, is a four-exclamation-marks enthusiasm. The quirkiness of the local ways of speaking was largely entrusted to secondary comic figures like the digger Ben Brewer, and Johnny Jinks, a Currency Lad; the romantic leads, Morley and even Bubs the Currency Lass, speak a much more neutral if invigorated English: 17 Louis Esson, ‘The Drovers’, in Dead Timber and Other Plays, Hendersons, 1920, p. 44.


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ben: I’m a digger, I am, and I ain’t much on palaver, but what I says I means and what I says I does, and what I says, old pal (to MORLEY) is as we’ve struck it hot – that’s what we have, struck it hot. bubs: Good for you, Benny, old man! We’re in! ben: What did I say that night to my mates! Here, Bub and Matt, why, says I, I has a presentiment as how the Queen’s Birthday is going to turn up trumps, and I’m going to work for luck, says I, on speck. Did I say that or didn’t I? morley: You did, Ben, old man, you did. bubs: Right you are, Benny, old man. ben: Well, I’m a digger I am, and what I means I says, and what I says I does. So this morning I goes to the claim and we’ve struck it hot, that’s what we have – and it’s there. jinks: Show it up, Benny, old toucher! ben: It’s the Queen’s Birthday as brings him forth – it’s the Queen’s flag as covers him – and here he is – the Birthday Nugget! bubs: My word, he is a beauty.18

The pattern is slightly adapted in Bert Bailey’s Rudd plays, neatly classified by a Sydney Morning Herald critic as requiring Polonius to add ‘farce-bucolical’ to his catalogue of dramatic forms.19 Dad’s syntax is every bit as contorted as Ben’s, but overlaid with a spluttering energy that springs from his constant irascibility. It is juxtaposed not only with the neutral idiom spoken by his regular enemies in the squattocracy, but, in the most successful of the series, On Our Selection (1912), with that of his native-born daughter Kate and her native-born admirer, Sandy. The conventions of melodramatic characterisation override the claims of credibility, but in this case the comic figure is, of course, not an engaging part of the d´ecor, but the centre of the play. Dad’s contempt for the government’s scheme for assisted land settlement, which becomes the basis for his agreement to run for parliament, is filled with the fiercely proud independence of the frontier battler, though strong opinions are less decisive than marital politics in his launching of an unlikely career: dad: I wouldn’t be much good in parliament. mother: No, Mr Maloney. He wouldn’t be any good at it. dad: [rising] Why wouldn’t I? Of course I would. I’d tell some of those fellers wot I think of them and wot they’re doin’ to the country, the robbers . . . Wot’s the good of puttin’ people on the land who don’t know the difference between a jug of milk and a lizard. [He sits down] I get fresh machinery and money when I went on the land? No! My wife and children lived in a bark humpy. They worked in the yards, in the paddicks, on the drays, and beside the stack. They ’ad courage, they ’ad ’earts, that’s ’ow my family faced the land. And there is ’undreds of families doin’ the same this very day.20 18 The Sunny South, act 3, scene 2, p. 37. 19 7 August 1916, review of Duncan McClure and the Poor Parson, quoted in Williams, Australia on the Popular Stage, p. 255. 20 Bert Bailey, On Our Selection, ed. Helen Musa, Currency Press, 1984, pp. 132–3.


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In the later years of the character and the genre, Dad retained his distinctive asperity and speech rhythms, as exemplified in his dismissal of the new schoolteacher’s plans to bring cultivation to the locals in Steele Rudd’s Gran’dad Rudd (1918): gran’dad: Oh that don’t matter to me. I was known in the old country meself once, but I’m an Australian now and don’t want to know anyone who is anythin’ else. You ain’t got no intellect and science in the old country like we have here!21

There is a touch of affectionate satire in this depiction of Dad’s jingoism, but, particularly in the context of the conversational blandness that surrounds it, the primary emphasis is on the indulgence of an endearingly defiant national pride. Characteristically, the quirkiest Australianisms in the bush melodrama and its folkcomedy successors were reserved – oddly enough – for Old Australians, most of whom, like Dad Rudd, were born in England. The effect is to reinforce a sense of cultural distinctiveness that is shaped by the past, and can be fondly regarded at a distance by a contemporary audience that is already a little more sophisticated than that. In the theatre of popular nationalism that Esson chose to disregard, the action was often framed by that implicit irony, or at least self-consciousness, and its negotiations of colonial status were in consequence less simple than they might have looked. The exploration of competing systems of value through the juxtaposition of contrasting voices was taken to a new level of sophistication in Betty Roland’s The Touch of Silk (1927).22 Here the emotional focus is all with Jeanne, the attractive and stylish young Frenchwoman who finds herself among the heat, dust and flies of the Australian outback following her marriage to Jim, a battling farmer. Her elegance of phrasing and winning charm are set against two forms of the local vernacular – her husband’s grim taciturnity, and the suffocating banalities of her malevolent mother-inlaw, who determinedly calls her ‘Jan’ to show how unimpressed she is with silly foreign ways. For Esson the central subject would have been the tragic suffering of the doomed farmer, as he placed the narrative in Dead Timber and Mother and Son. Bailey would instantly have placed the focus on the comic potential of Mrs Davidson’s manipulations and malapropisms. Roland’s decision to throw Australianness into relief rather than to make it a subject in itself freed her to develop a subtle and unsettling critique of her culture, and one that works theatrically. Rather than attempting to present directly images of the dried-up land that produces diminished people and no crops, Roland allowed it to be inferred as an imaginative presence outside the windows of the pretty little room that is at first Jeanne’s refuge, and then her prison. As a solution to the problem of staging a distinctive Australian iconography within a frame of domestic realism, Roland’s strategy is comparable with Ray Lawler’s in Summer of the Seventeenth 21 Quoted in Williams, Australia on the Popular Stage, p. 252. 22 Betty Roland, The Touch of Silk, Currency Methuen Drama, 1974.


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Doll (1955). Lawler’s self-consciously retrospective treatment of the bushman myth in the characters of Roo and Barney happens not in the tough outdoors where they cut their cane, but in the highly feminised domestic environment in Melbourne to which each summer they come south for ‘the lay-off ’. The myth, both in terms of its values and the iconography of the place where they are forged, is realised and critiqued in terms of how it is perceived, not – as Esson sought to do in The Drovers, for instance – how it is supposedly enacted in its natural environment. The displacement of the myth, in The Touch of Silk and in The Doll, induces a process not unlike a Brechtian ‘making strange’ which enables it to be represented not only more critically but, paradoxically, more vividly. Finding ways to represent a distinctive accent and vocabulary that were more than simply representational was one of the challenges in the evolution (or invention, from some points of view) of an authentic national drama. The evidence suggests that this was a project most successfully conducted in the context of other, more neutral, stage languages, since this placed the focus immediately on the tensions within colonialism, rather than simply presenting a tour of local cultural idiosyncrasies. The related task of finding images of the country itself was also, apparently, dependent on establishing a contrasting context; the land was more powerfully present when it was constructed as an imaginative or metaphorical construct than when it was represented by a stark tree on a picture-frame stage. Not all Australian playwrights dealt with these subjects: writers like Arthur Adams maintained for the most part a focus on social comedy, or on poetic fantasy, while the expatriate Haddon Chambers had a successful West End career not dealing with images of Australia at all.23 But for most playwrights of the period these challenges seemed compelling, if not compulsory. They were confronted with a self-consciousness, and often a sense of ideological mission, that could easily become disabling. The search for a distinctively Australian voice in the playscripts of this period had obvious implications for the discovery of an appropriately representative Australian accent and acting style in performance. The strategy employed by Bert Bailey in the first decade of the century was substantially the one adopted in the theatre of the next 50 years. Quirky comic and ‘character’ roles licensed a colourful vernacular and the broad, flat, nasal accent in which perhaps the majority of Australians were understood to speak. Serious or romantic roles called for a vocabulary and a manner that had not travelled far from the West End. This general dichotomy, in the evolution of Australian theatre and the society it attempted to represent, is a consistent feature of the period under discussion, and frequently an explicit concern in the texts as they negotiate the delicate matter of post-colonial self-assertion. 23 The New Zealand-born Arthur Adams was a prolific and diverse writer, best known for Pierrot in Australia (1910, London season 1912), the romantic comedy Mrs Pretty and the Premier (1914), The Wasters (1914) and Gallipoli Bill (1926).


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The coming of the cinema Fotheringham’s assertion that ‘For just under one hundred years – from 1832 until 1930 – live theatre flourished as a commercial industry in Australia’ draws its confident exactness about dates from two significant moments in the history of the Australian stage. One is Governor Bourke’s granting of the first licence for theatrical performance to Barnett Levey, which enabled him to begin regular shows in the saloon of his Royal Hotel in Sydney on Boxing Day in 1832, and to open in the following year Australia’s first designated theatre, the 800-seat Theatre Royal. The other bookend for this age of prosperity is supplied by the dominance of film, and of Hollywood sound movies in particular, in the competition for a mass audience. There are good and obvious reasons why that contest should be especially keen in a period of economic depression, and certainly Hollywood’s increasing stranglehold over outlets for distribution ensured that the contest was soon resolved. But the relationship between film and theatre in Australia is a little more complex than the one-horse race of the early 1930s suggests. For a significant period in the early years of the 20th century, theatre and cinema generally shared venues, and quite compatibly. The early multiple bills for imported film characteristically included ‘live’ dramatic and musical items as well, perhaps drawing on the first phase of the new genre when magic lantern shows had been another kind of novelty act on the carnival and novelty circuits. And certainly, at the end of that first decade, the explosion in films made by and about Australians coincided precisely with the high point in Bailey’s stage career with the Dad and Dave comedies. There is a suggestion in the years just before World War I that the appetites for cinema and stage-shows actually fed and supported one another, rather than being locked in mortal combat. The number of local features released in 1911 and 1912 reached a level unequalled until 1975, a peak year in the much later revival. The year 1911 saw the most prolific output, with no less than 52 narrative fiction films making their appearance.24 In part this explosion was simply a reflection of the demand for product. The proliferation of cinemas, their necessarily rapid turnover of programs and the popular appetite for ‘the pictures’ put a lot of pressure on the market for importation, and there were, for a time, clear advantages in the cost and predictability of supply in drawing on local material. But there were signs, too, of a genuine interest in local subjects. Initially, the field was dominated by films set in colonial times, following in the footsteps of Australia’s first features, The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), Eureka Stockade (1907), Robbery Under Arms (1907) and For the Term of his Natural Life (1908) – films which, like the bush melodramas of Darrell and Dampier, drew on novels and events of mythic scale from Australia’s recent past. As in the popular melodrama, too, there was a particular vogue for the bushranger story, ushered in by Cozens Spencer (The Life and Adventures 24 Graham Shirley and Brian Adams, Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years, A&R with Currency Press, 1983; rev. edn, Currency Press, 1989, p. 24.


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of John Vane, the Notorious Australian Bushranger in 1910, and Captain Starlight, Captain Moonlite and Captain Midnight, the Bush King, all in 1911), and the actor–director John Gavin (Thunderbolt and Moonlight, the Bushranger in 1910, followed by Ben Hall and his Gang, Frank Gardiner, King of the Road, and Keane of Kalgoorlie in 1911). So popular did the bushranger film become that the New South Wales Police Department, fearing it might have an evil influence on impressionable audiences, banned the subject altogether in 1912. This burgeoning of films about iconic Australian subjects was not only coincident with a couple of particularly good seasons on the popular stage. These were also precisely the years of William Moore’s Annual Drama Nights in Melbourne, where small audiences of literati could watch evenings of one-acters about other iconic subjects, and where, according to Dennis Carroll, ‘The birthdate of Australian contemporary drama may fairly be fixed.’ As Louis Esson tried to squeeze his vision of the vast, brown, hostile land into the cramped confines of the Oddfellows stage and a more-or-less realist performance aesthetic, the medium to which those evocative images of limitless horizons were much more obviously suited was flourishing in sympathy, just down the road. The early films could capture the distinctively Australian images, but of course the distinctively Australian voice was for a time beyond its scope. But even in the early 1930s, when the dominant screen accent was American, there were moderately successful attempts to encourage cross-pollination between Australian theatre and film. Frank Thring, founder in 1930 of Australia’s first dedicated sound film studio, Efftee Films, not only produced nine feature films and more than 300 ‘shorts’ until his sudden death in 1936, but staged regular seasons of stage plays and, especially, musicals at Melbourne’s Regent, Princess and Garrick Theatres throughout that period. Partly his policy was a shameless strategy for getting the most out of the performers he contracted; he saw no compelling reason why an actor shooting a film during the day should not appear on stage in the evening. But partly it reflected a genuine belief in the complementarity of the mediums, and for a while it seemed to be vindicated. Thring also staged the major Australian musical between the wars, Collits’ Inn, in 1934, which was scheduled to be filmed after its successful Melbourne and Sydney seasons.25 Set in the Blue Mountains in the 1830s, Collits’ Inn was yet another tale told about bushranging, with a romance plot at its centre that opens up a range of conflicts between loyalties to the laws of the old country and a robust colonial iconoclasm. Mary the innkeeper’s daughter has to choose between two men who love her, Bob Keane the bushranger and Captain Lake the redcoat who is determined to hunt him down. Both are good men, if in rather different ways; Mary’s preference for Lake is

25 The soundtrack recorded on film for the movie that was never made is held at the National Film and Sound Archive. The playscript of Collit’s Inn (music and lyrics by Varney Monk, book by T. Stuart Gurr) was published by Currency Press in 1990, ed. John West.


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almost apologetic, as though the values of the new society turn conventional models of respectability inside-out (and redefine in that process the archetypal opposition in the musical between the lovers and the community that opposes them). As in the turnof-the-century theatrical melodramas, the use of the vernacular is largely confined to comic characters on the periphery of the main action (though the involvement of the comic actor George Wallace in the role ensured that Dirty Dick made an irrepressible bid for centre-stage). The music reflects this social division: the songs in the romance plot are squarely based in the world of operetta, while Wallace’s songs are classic music hall. Thring had noted the prevalence of musicals among the early Hollywood talkies; the first sounds heard in the first sound film, The Jazz Singer (1927), were of Al Jolson’s singing, and the blockbuster musical Showboat, which appeared in the same year, was almost immediately adapted for the cinema. He had perhaps noted, as well, the significance of the Broadway musical in articulating the powerful mythologies of the new frontier for American audiences. Like the Western film, the musical dealt with communities under threat or in transition. Characteristically, like the bush melodramas of the late 19th century, its focus was retrospective, suggesting that the understanding of the defining metaphors of a culture is to be approached through its history, rather than adopting the contemporary focus that the modernist theatre seemed mostly to require. Not that the Australian forms of the species came close to Showboat or Oklahoma! in musically mythologising the culture that produced them. The popular triumph of Collits’ Inn prompted some imitations: Thring himself commissioned another Monk– Gurr collaboration, The Cedar Tree (1934), and in the same year J. C. Williamson was sufficiently impressed to put aside the Firm’s customary avoidance of the local product and stage its own Blue Mountains musical, Blue Mountain Melody. Neither show was successful, and after that, writing for Australian musical theatre became the exercise in deep disappointment that it has remained, with few and fleeting exceptions, to the present day. Certainly, the kinds of things that playwrights and critics seemed to be demanding that the straight theatre in Australia should do – represent the distinctive images of a national culture and give voice to an evolving sense of shared identity – were things that had not been asked of the straight theatre in other places, and had, appropriately, never been delivered by it. The forms of entertainment in which American culture was defined and proselytised were the cinema and the musical. It is unlikely that either genre would have come close to Esson’s criteria for ‘decent Australian plays’ – but perhaps that was precisely the problem, and understanding why it might be so illuminates Australian drama not only in the period under discussion, but at all times. Australian plays were for too long encumbered with the primary responsibility for indulging the national self-consciousness; it was only when that broad commission was given energy and specificity by the political movements of the late 1960s and early 70s that Australian drama took its decisive next step, and its most significant and sustained


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in the century. The coming of the theatrical New Wave was, like the brief flurries of activity in 1910–12 and in the early 1930s, paralleled by a corresponding explosion in Australian cinema.

New theatres, little theatres Australian drama between the world wars (and indeed for the decade that followed the second of them) relied heavily for its survival on two very different theatrical outlets: one was the New Theatre movement, a resilient cultural organisation that emerged in the early 1930s from the Communist Party of Australia and other enclaves of the political left; the other was the essentially amateur repertory theatre that flourished improbably in all the capital cities, but had its most prominent incarnations in the Independent Theatre in Sydney, and in the Gregan McMahon company and later the Little Theatre in Melbourne. These theatres had in common their cultivation of original Australian writing in a period that was particularly discouraging, though in neither case was that commitment a high priority, and in neither did that kind of work comprise anything like the lion’s share of its repertoire. They shared too a recognition of the contribution of women, as writers, directors and organisers, that was notably absent from the mainstream and commercial theatre. Doris Fitton, founder and matriarch of the Independent, May Hollinworth at the Metropolitan, Irene Mitchell at the Little, were among the most influential presenters of new work in the country. Writers like Oriel Gray, Mona Brand, Dymphna Cusack and Betty Roland with New Theatre, directors like Hilda Esson (wife of Louis),26 and actor–writers like Catherine Duncan found scope for their talents there that the mainstream theatre consistently denied them. Of course, the two enterprises had their amateurism in common, too, which confirmed their marginalisation from what others defined as the main game. McMahon’s Melbourne Repertory Theatre, which in many ways set the pattern for the ‘little theatre’ movement, was dedicated to the production of important plays, the modern classics in particular, of which some were occasionally Australian. It was McMahon who promoted and directed the Shavian comedy The Time Is Not Yet Ripe (1912), Esson’s least representative play but, ironically, his best-known and perhaps most accomplished work for the theatre. McMahon’s program for Australian theatre was a nationalist agenda of sorts, but it had more to do with raising the standards of local productions and the expectations of local audiences in the course of demonstrating that Australians might meet the highest of standards. His publicity brochure for the third season in 1913 declared the aim of ‘affording playgoers some opportunity of witnessing types of drama that can but rarely be seen on the boards of the commercial theatre, of 26 The fullest analysis of Melbourne New Theatre, and of Hilda Esson’s contribution to it, remains the PhD thesis by Angela O’Brien, ‘The Road Not Taken; Political and Performance Ideologies at Melbourne New Theatre, 1935–1960,’ Monash University, 1989. See also Michelle Arrow, Upstaged: Australian Women Dramatists in the Spotlight at Last, Currency Press with Pluto Press, 2002.


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encouraging local dramatic authorship, and of assisting in the training of local histrionic talent’. 27 The ambitions, and the balance of repertoire, at the Independent and the Little were similar, as were those of the societies that sought to emulate McMahon’s in other states. It made them sometimes vulnerable to charges of dilettantism and of a precious social exclusiveness: ‘The repertory societies set up in each State (Adelaide 1908, Perth 1919, Brisbane 1925, Hobart 1927, Canberra 1930) were all capable of serious work but from the outset they generally carried an air of social chic.’28 However, some of these groups staged notable new Australian writing. At the Little, Ray Lawler’s first play, a vaguely historical farce named Hal’s Belles, first appeared in 1946; more significantly, one of the Independent’s stalwart actors, Sumner Locke Elliott, had two major plays staged there – Invisible Circus (1946) and Rusty Bugles (1948). The latter achieved some helpful notoriety in its use of what was then regarded as ‘colourful language’, and was sufficiently controversial to make a successful transition to the commercial theatre in the following year. It remains an interesting play for its approach to the familiar quest for an Australian stage language that could be striking and subtle at the same time. Rusty Bugles abandoned the normal obligations of dramatic action; indeed its author, a little defensively perhaps, asserted that ‘This is a documentary. It is not strictly a play. It has no plot in the accepted sense.’29 Elliott’s approach to the exploration of cultural stereotype, like Roland’s in The Touch of Silk and Lawler’s in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, was to transplant it. In this case, the neutral location and the desultory rhythms of life in camp, where a bunch of 16 assorted soldiers stuck at an ordnance depot in the Northern Territory are doing little and going nowhere, throw the focus on how the men reveal or disguise themselves in conversation. The result is a play that draws heavily on the power of its subtext to disclose the tensions within the group, and within each member of it. Where Esson in The Drovers relied on his audience inferring the things that the characters could not say and the playwright could not dramatise, Elliott’s broader and more diverse range of languages both illuminate one another and enable a genuine analysis of the ways in which masculinity is constructed. The programs of the New Theatre movement could hardly be dismissed on the grounds of ersatz glamour, though they were probably equally (and just as unfairly) open to accusations of artistic self-indulgence. In New Theatre’s case, however, the overriding political objective, and the popular suspicion of ideas and ideologues, ensured that their social reach remained very limited. That commitment, and the dutiful obeisance 27 Brochure held by the State Library of Victoria. The most extensive analysis of McMahon’s long career remains that by Margery Morgan and Dennis Douglas. ‘Gregan McMahon and the Australian Theatre’, Komos: Quarterly Journal of Drama and the Arts, ii.2(1969). 28 Pamela Heckenberg and Philip Parsons, ‘The Struggle for an Australian Theatre (1901–1950) and the Decline of the Chains: Summary of Theatrical Events’, in Love, The Australian Stage, p. 132. 29 Sumner Locke Elliott, ‘Prefatory Note’ to Eunice Hanger (ed.), Three Australian Plays, University of Minnesota Press, 1968, p. 26.


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to Soviet realism in much of the group’s practice, allowed relatively limited and fairly circumscribed opportunities for local writers. There were significant new plays by writers like Rice and Odets, as well as a host of doctrinaire works by approved Europeans, to be brought to the attention of the faithful in Australia, and these tended to have priority. But the intellectual constraints were not so tight that they excluded a number of substantial new plays exploring issues of race and gender, and it is impossible to imagine where else, in this period, they might have been produced. There were significant male writers in the New Theatre stable: Dick Diamond, whose folk musical Reedy River (1953) was New Theatre’s most spectacular hit, and Jim Crawford, whose Rocket Range (1947) combined its protest against the Maralinga nuclear tests and the cultural prejudices that lay behind them with a particularly ingenious solution to the representation of the Indigenous ‘other’.30 But Diamond and Crawford were the only Australian men to have more than one play produced by the organisation’s Sydney branch. Mona Brand, on the other hand, had 12 plays produced at Sydney’s New Theatre, and Oriel Gray 11.31 Elsewhere in the theatre, it seemed clear that there was only one position less favourable for a successful career in writing for the stage than that of Australian playwright, and that was that of female Australian playwright. Brand and Gray are significant figures in the evolution of Australian drama, and, until recently, appallingly neglected ones. The marginalisation and deep suspicion of New Theatre was no doubt part of the reason for this omission, as was the scarcity of published editions of their work. But the gender issue is self-evident. (It is wonderfully focused in the fact that Gray’s The Torrents tied with Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll for the 1955 Playwright’s Advisory Board Award with its attendant promise of professional production, and then in the stark contrast between the performance histories of the two plays.)32 The Torrents, which reappraises aspects of Australia’s history and mainstream cultural assumptions in the context of a young female journalist’s assertion of her independence and right to a career in a provincial town in the 1890s, provides an apt framework for exploring its subsequent theatrical life. Working with New Theatre imposed ideological constraints as well as providing opportunities. While both Gray and Brand produced a number of primarily agit-prop works (Gray’s Marx of Time, 1942, and Let’s Be Offensive, 1943; Brand’s Out of Commission, 1955, and On Stage Vietnam, 1967), their awareness and exploration of complexity is 30 Indigenous characters were customarily represented as speaking in Pidgin that was almost always comic, occasionally (as in The Drovers) lyrical, but rarely an instrument for the exchange of ideas or feelings, and always considered as quaintly novel against the normative standard of Anglo conversation. Crawford’s solution was to give his Indigenous characters two languages – a slightly demeaning Pidgin which they adopted whenever white men were present, and a highly sophisticated version of ‘King’s English’ with which they conversed among themselves, and analysed the crudity with which the local constable addressed them. 31 Michelle Arrow points out that ‘Of the eighty Australian-written productions at Sydney New Theatre from 1933 to 1968 (including revivals), forty-four of them were written or co-written by women’: Upstaged, p. 165. 32 The Torrents remained unperformed until its undistinguished amateur productions at New Theatre (Adelaide 1957, Melbourne 1958); by this time ‘The Doll’ had enjoyed its successful London season and was in production for a Hollywood feature film (incongruously starring the American actor Ernest Borgnine and the Englishman John Mills in the roles of Roo and Barney).


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the principal source of dramatic strength in their writing. Both engage with attitudes to gender and racial prejudice in ways that avoid stereotypes, and the easy laughs and anger that they can feed. Those subjects are not the sole preserve of the political left, of course; nor does it have a strikingly good record in putting those principles into practice. As complications of a class-based reading of the world, treatments of sexism and racism were always potentially problematic in their relation to New Theatre’s rationale. Gray in The Torrents, Had We But World Enough (1948) and Burst of Summer (1960) and Brand in Here Under Heaven (1948) and Strangers in the Land (1952) were as concerned to understand as to condemn the bigotry they exposed, and they did so characteristically in the social milieu of the bourgeoisie; this occasionally made for tensions in their relationships with the theatre to which both gave the best part of a lifetime.33 The novelist Dymphna Cusack moved even further from Marxist orthodoxy in her all-female play about poisonous relationships in the staff room of a girls’ high school, Morning Sacrifice (1942). The force that moves the work from cosy large-target satire to tragedy – or at least to serious melodrama – is the repressed sexuality that most of the staff have in common, and that proves particularly destructive in a couple of twinsetwearing closet lesbians whose vindictiveness had seemed merely petty. Like Brand and Gray, Cusack located her political analysis within domestic interiors, and in the context of the psychological dynamics of relationships, that neatly fitted the perimeters of the proscenium stage and the naturalistic conventions that normally governed it. So did Katharine Susannah Prichard, another playwright better known as a novelist. Although Prichard produced her share of didactic pieces for the Workers’ Theatre Group and New Theatre in Perth, her most distinguished play, Brumby Innes (1927),34 like Cusack’s, not only eschewed an ideologically approved analysis but offered a reading in terms of sexual psychology that implicitly challenged it. May, a city girl visiting Australia’s wild west, is attracted to the resident alpha male, Brumby Innes, a man accustomed to doing what he likes with the local black women. He rapes her, then marries her, then installs her as ‘one of Brumby’s mares’. Prichard’s treatment of Brumby’s dark sexual power, and May’s decidedly primal response to it, owes more to D. H. Lawrence than to Marx for its intellectual lineage; its depiction of female sexuality would be problematic in any theatre, let alone one as conscientiously reconstructed as that of Australia’s left. During the decade after the end of World War II, Australian theatre seemed to be marking time. There were occasional tours by high-profile visitors like Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, but these tended to be conceived not as interesting embellishments of Australian theatre life, but as reminders that there was nothing there. Keith Macartney in 1947 lamented that ‘we still lack a truly national voice in the theatre, the most social of

33 Brand in particular was subjected to censure for the middle-class setting of Strangers in the Land, the worldweary ennui of Giff, its central character, and the lack of a directly empowering role in the play for any of its Malayan resistance fighters. See Arrow, Upstaged, p. 179. 34 Though Brumby Innes won the Playwriting Competition conducted by The Triad in 1927, it had to wait 45 years for its premiere production by the Australian Performing Group in 1972.


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the arts’.35 Yet throughout that period, the same persistent industry, the same pattern of initiative, frustration and resilience, was asserting itself on the edge of public awareness as had been there between the wars, and – if in very different forms – when Esson looked for a national theatre and could see nothing there in the early years of the 20th century. It was still there, in a fashion, in popular entertainment; it was newly there in radio drama, which from the early 1930s provided not only gainful employment for writers and actors in Australia but an arena for their professional development. The iconography of the outback, so resistant to the realist stage, could be imaginatively realised without restriction in the radio play and the popular serial. Works like Gwen Meredith’s long-running family sagas The Lawsons (1942–8) and Blue Hills (1949–76)36 gave a credible and distinctive voice to rural Australian society in a way that was possibly more truthful and certainly more culturally influential than any epic drama that Esson could dream. Douglas Stewart, who attempted drama with an epic sweep in plays like Fire on the Snow (1941) and Ned Kelly (1942) and signaled his seriousness of purpose by writing them in verse, conceded the magnitude of the task of staging myths on that scale by writing them for radio.37 Not only the focus on poetic language, but the monumental ponderousness of much of the action, made that a good choice. When Stewart reiterated in 1956 the need for a ‘truly national’ drama, it was still with the sense that it was something yet unborn: It is of course a fact that literature does serve, even in a sense create, the nation . . . The playwright, I think, creates the myths by which the people live: the heroic, gigantic, legendary figures, fathers of the race, ancestors, spiritual or actual, to which the living man can point and say: ‘That is what I am made of; that is what makes us different from other people; that is what I believe in.’38

It was a noble but excessively weighty expectation. And perhaps it was always misconceived. Cultural distinctiveness is always achieved best in drama when the focus is on something else, just as the fact that Australian writers seem engaged in a search for a sense of distinctive national identity may not be a sign that the quest has so far failed but a proof of its success. What characterises and substantiates the culture is precisely that questioning of what it is, and whether it really exists. 35 Quoted in Rees, A History of Australian Drama, vol. 1: The Making of Australian Drama 1830s to 1960s, A&R, 1953, p. 240. 36 Meredith’s two serials ran for a total of 5795 performances over 33 years. See Leslie Rees, ‘Gwen Meredith’, in Parsons and Chance, Companion, p. 364. Other significant long-running serials were, inevitably, Dad and Dave (from 1936), and the homely suburban fare of Fred and Maggie Everybody (from 1936) and Mrs ’Obbs (from 1940). 37 The Fire on the Snow was conceived for radio; Ned Kelly was originally written for the stage, but premiered (in an abridged form) on ABC radio. 38 Douglas Stewart, The Australasian Elizabethan Theatre Trust: The First Year, pp. lv–lvi.



‘New words come tripping slowly’ Poetry, popular culture and modernity, 1890–1950 peter kirkpatrick Australia in the first half of the 20th century was one of the most urbanised countries in the world and embraced modernity – city living, new technologies, the mass media – with a passion second only to that of the United States; and yet, without strong literaryintellectual or avant-garde traditions, Australian poetry in this period seems, at first glance, anti-modernist. The radical poet Lesbia Harford was one who hoped for a new kind of verse that might express a new social order. In 1917 she wrote: Into old rhyme New words come tripping slowly. Hail to the time When they possess it wholly.

Harford yearned for a poetic language adequately to express the modern age. Even so, she could hardly have envisaged the experimentalism of ‘high’ modernists such as Ezra Pound, H.D., Marianne Moore and T. S. Eliot. If the avant-garde was slow to have an impact – other than a negative one – on Australian poets during this period, we need to acknowledge that there are many ways of being modern. The history of poetry, as of any literary form, is inseparable from its readers, the uses they make of it, and the modes by which it is transmitted and consumed. In the 19th century that readership and those uses and modes proliferated within everyday life in ways that we today, for all the possibilities of cyberspace, can barely imagine. At the beginning of the period covered by this chapter poetry was still commonly published in Australian newspapers, as it had been throughout the Victorian age. Verse was also frequently spoken – in suburban parlours, in schools, in theatres and on concert platforms. Indeed, most people were capable of reciting part if not all of at least one favourite piece. By the middle of the 20th century, though, within the span of a single lifetime, newspapers rarely published poetry and, outside eisteddfods and the occasional radio program, its public performance was virtually extinct. Poetry had become a minority art form, increasingly the sole preserve of cultural elites who published and discussed it in little magazines, or studied it silently on the page in universities. This transformation was not unique to Australia, of course. Throughout the Englishspeaking world poetry moved from being a broadly popular to an unpopular, largely


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highbrow, art form. This can partly be explained by changes in the modes of mass communication, and in particular the invention of radio – as we will see. The rapid expansion of cities following the Industrial Revolution had produced vigorous urban societies that hankered after new forms of information, entertainment and self-improvement. The great variety of the Victorian press was a function of this dynamic context, its scale a response to rising mass literacy. Benedict Anderson has described the ability of newspapers to create ‘imagined communities’,1 and in the 19th century the verse they published reflected this. The literary ballad, in particular, built to hold a narrative, proved readily adaptable to a range of journalistic demands, from lowlife sketch to heroic set piece, from patriotic prayer to satirical squib. In Australia the bush ballad, a racy sub-genre created by Adam Lindsay Gordon in the 1860s, came to prominence in the pages of the Sydney Bulletin 20 years later. The Bulletin was a weekly paper which, under the doughty editorship of J. F. Archibald from 1886, took a continental view of Australian life and invited copy from readers across the six colonies with the aim of national self-fashioning. Known as the Bushman’s Bible, its literary offerings helped construct a frontier-based, chiefly masculine and frequently humorous version of Australian identity that remains popular, and marketable, to this day. Long before Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin, there was the Man from Snowy River, ‘a stripling on a small and weedy beast’, who galloped onto its pages on 26 April 1890, hellbent on subduing a mob of brumbies to retrieve a valuable racing colt. Identified only by where he comes from, and seen rather than heard in the poem, the Man from Snowy River becomes an agent of the land itself: less a human character than a rough-riding metonymy. This gives him the superhuman power to become one with both his horse and the landscape: ‘he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed’. Paterson’s language also nods to epic, from the infernally ‘terrible descent’, to the later description of the ‘pine-clad ridges’ as ‘battlements’, which accords with the tale’s chivalric qualities. Correspondingly, by the end of the poem the Man’s feat has passed into legend: ‘The man from Snowy River is a household word to-day, / And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.’ Such has been the power of Paterson’s factitious folklore that this statement is now perfectly true. Paterson went on to invent another piece of Australian folklore in 1895 with ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Though he loosely based it on recent events in western Queensland, he deliberately abstracted time in the fairy-tale opening, ‘Oh! there once was a swagman camped in a Billabong’, and mythopoeic conclusion, ‘And his ghost may be heard as it sings in the Billabong’.2 It is hardly coincidental that Paterson edited the first collection of Australian folk ballads, Old Bush Songs, in 1905.

1 See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. edn, Verso, 1991, ch. 2. 2 This is Paterson’s own version published in Saltbush Bill, J.P., and Other Verses (1917). In the popular version the lines are: ‘Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong’, ‘And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong’.


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The bush ballads share the form and, to some extent, the content of folk poetry, but their broad and continuing popularity – particularly in the country – blurs their fundamental difference from traditional bush songs. Rather than being collected from oral sources, the bush ballad is distinctly modern, the product of a literate, predominantly urban nationalism.3 As well as from Gordon, the Bulletin bards adapted their work from popular overseas models, notably the ballads of Rudyard Kipling and Bret Harte – though the 19th-century fashion for ballad poetry ultimately derived from the Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge. As a demotic form, balladry embodied the romantic urge to speak in what Wordsworth called ‘language really used by men’; but by appealing to a pre-industrial sensibility, it was also a mode of creative anachronism. Paterson began his introduction to Old Bush Songs with a long quotation from Lord Macaulay’s preface to Lays of Ancient Rome, which argued for balladry as a function of the course of empire: ‘Such is the origin of ballad-poetry, a species of composition which scarcely ever fails to spring up and flourish in every society, at a certain point in the progress towards refinement.’ Paterson commented, wilfully contracting the historical process: ‘So far as materials for ballads go, the first sixty or seventy years of our history are equal to about three hundred years of the life of an old and settled nation.’4 That verse was commonly recited by all classes at this time enhanced the status of the bush ballad as quasi-folklore. Yet the Victorian performance of poetry was less a folkloric remnant than another product of modernity; in this case, the widespread diffusion of elocutionary practices that infiltrated many forms of spoken expression – from the exercise of reading aloud to sermons and political oratory. Designed to facilitate class-mobility through ‘proper’ speech, elocution sought to regulate diction along pseudo-scientific lines but, as an unintended corollary, also stimulated a fascination with dialects and deviations.5 Recitation, employed as an instrument to discipline the voice (especially in schools), could thus serve to liberate it into other idioms; from the comic character ‘turns’ of music hall, to the political intonations of literary nationalism: Australia’s a big country An’ Freedom’s humping bluey, An’ Freedom’s on the wallaby O don’t you hear ’er cooey? She’s just begun to boomerang, 3 See Graeme Davison, ‘Sydney and the Bush: An Urban Context for the Australian Legend’, in John Carroll (ed.), Intruders in the Bush: The Australian Quest for Identity, OUP, 1982. Davison’s view that the bush legend was largely the work of bohemian writers in the city is challenged by Richard Waterhouse: see The Vision Splendid: A Social and Cultural History of Rural Australia, Curtin University Books, 2005, pp. 163–5, 176–7. 4 A. B. Paterson (ed.), ‘Introduction’, Old Bush Songs: Composed and Sung in the Bushranging, Digging and Overlanding Days, 5th edn, Cornstalk, 1926, pp. x–xi. 5 See Peter Kirkpatrick, ‘Hunting the Wild Reciter: Elocution and the Art of Recitation’, in Joy Damousi and Desley Deacon (eds), Talking and Listening in the Age of Modernity: Essays on the History of Sound, ANU E Press, 2007.


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She’ll knock the tyrants silly, She’s goin’ to light another fire And boil another billy.

Henry Lawson’s ‘Freedom on the Wallaby’, written for the Brisbane Worker in 1891, carries republican zeal in the grain of its aggressive vernacular, and was composed on the tongue. A. G. Stephens recalled Lawson from this time ‘pounding out his rhymes, often aloud, as he paced to and fro’.6 Both Lawson and Paterson had poems in popular books of recitations such as The Coo-ee Reciter (1904) and the Bulletin Reciter (1901), which went through many editions and by 1940 had sold over 250 000 copies. While they were twin pillars of the Bulletin literary pantheon, Lawson and Paterson were opposites in terms of class and temperament. Both had bush upbringings, but whereas Lawson’s family scratched a living from a poor selection, Paterson was a squatter’s son. Their differences were played out in the poetic ‘debate’ they cooked up in the Bulletin in 1892. Lawson fired the first salvo with ‘Borderland’, which depicted the outback as a blighted hellhole; a place Where, in clouds of dust enveloped, roasted bullock-drivers creep Slowly past the sun-dried shepherd dragged behind his crawling sheep. Stunted peak of granite gleaming, glaring like a molten mass Turned from some infernal furnace on a plain devoid of grass.

Paterson responded ‘In Defence of the Bush’ with a bucolic vision of the volk in full cry: But you found the bush was dismal and a land of no delight – Did you chance to hear a chorus in the shearers’ huts at night? Did they ‘rise up William Riley’ by the camp-fire’s cheery blaze? Did they rise him as we rose him in the good old droving days?

The Bulletin debate was about how Australians should read their landscape: was it a wasteland characterised by maddening isolation, or a pastoral place where communities of happy rustics sang old bush songs? Was it Lawson’s outback hell, or Paterson’s New Arcadia? In Preoccupations in Australian Poetry, Judith Wright described this opposition in terms of the landscape’s ‘double aspect’, a phrase that has both historical and existential implications: Australia has from the beginning of its short history meant something more to its new inhabitants than mere environment and mere land to be occupied, ploughed and brought into subjection. It has been an outer equivalent of an inner reality; first, and persistently, the reality of exile; second, though perhaps we now tend to forget this, the reality of newness and freedom.7 6 A. G. Stephens, ‘Henry Lawson: An Obituary’, in Leon Cantrell (ed.), A. G. Stephens: Selected Writings, A&R, 1978, p. 261. 7 Judith Wright, Preoccupations in Australian Poetry, OUP, 1965, p. xi.


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Among the Bulletin balladists, by far the bleakest poetic vision was that of Barcroft Boake, whose ‘Where the Dead Men Lie’ evokes a haunted frontier ‘Where brown Summer and Death have mated’. For Scottish-born Will Ogilvie, on the other hand, the bush was wholly an adventure. The title of his best-known collection, Fair Girls and Gray Horses (1898), indicates his main interests, and in a poem like ‘The Bush, My Lover’ the land is a sweetheart rather than a femme fatale. The fates of the poets fitted their temperaments: Boake hanged himself with his stockwhip at 26, while Ogilvie returned to Scotland and lived in tweedy, countrified contentment until 93. That nature was so often made to do the work of culture, and that landscape continued to form such a dominant, if ambiguous, trope in Australian poetry throughout this period gives the impression that Australian poets were less engaged with the wonders and disillusionments of modern life than their British or American counterparts. And yet, as Richard Waterhouse shows in The Vision Splendid, his cultural history of rural Australia, by the end of the 19th century industrialisation had radically changed land use and, in consequence, the shape of the land and the activities of those who lived on it. The result was the ‘more complete inclusion’ of the country ‘in a national – indeed, an international – market economy’.8 In 1889 Lawson lamented that ‘The mighty bush with iron rails / Is tethered to the world’ (‘The Roaring Days’). The ‘old’ bush of the pioneers was rapidly retreating into the past, which is one reason why the poets of the 1890s were so keen to memorialise it. Paterson was nostalgic for pre-industrial frontier life because it offered freedom from the conformity of urban mass society. For the city-dwelling speaker of ‘Clancy of the Overflow’, ‘the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me / As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste’. His longing to ‘change with Clancy’ and ‘take a turn at droving’ completely neglected the hardships of the drover’s life. The anti-pastoral vision of Lawson, on the other hand, acknowledged the contemporary politics of rural labour: ‘Ah! we read about the drovers and the shearers and the like / Till we wonder why such happy and romantic fellows strike’ (‘The City Bushman’). Despite the great popularity of balladry in the 1890s, it was versatile Irish-born Victor Daley who was possibly the most representative poet of the period. Daley’s politics were radical – he claimed Fenian descent – and he produced excellent topical and satirical verse for the Bulletin and other papers. Daley’s other mode drew from Aestheticism, however, and would not have been out of place in The Yellow Book. Donning this mask, he could without irony insist that ‘fair Romance’ was alive and well and willing to be wooed: Do they deem, these fools supreme, whose iron wheels unceasing whirr, That, in this rushing Age of Steam, there is no longer room for HER?

8 Waterhouse, Vision Splendid, p. 179.


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He once likened the setting sun to ‘a peony / Drowning in wine’ (‘A Sunset Fantasy’), and in the well-known ‘Dreams’ longed to go gentle into that good night: My songs and sonnets carven in fine gold Have faded from me with the last day-beam That purple lustre to the sea-line lent, And flushed the clouds with rose and chrysolite; So days and dreams in darkness pass away.

This is very much high-end poetry, and a world away from the demotic verses Daley wrote under the pen-name Creeve Roe (Irish Gaelic for Red Branch). In these he castigated the bloated capitalist – ‘His is the Glory that is Grease, / The Grandeur that is Rum’ (‘Hats’) – and sanctified the sufferings of the working class: ‘my true name is Labour, though priests call me Christ’ (‘His Name’). Like other Victorian poets, including even Tennyson (who wrote light verse in Lincolnshire dialect), Daley was aware of the diversity of his audience, but it was an audience that had became increasingly split by the exclusionary forces of an incipient modernism. He had wanted some of his Creeve Roe poems to be included in his first collection At Dawn and Dusk (1898) to offset the more rarefied pieces,9 but editorial preference was for serious over light verse, with a view to impressing literary opinion in London. The book’s failure to make any mark at all was a deep disappointment to Daley’s bohemian friends. Daley’s poetic gifts for both popular and more exalted forms, for sharp topicality as well as dreamy lyricism, were shared by many poets of the period – which is what makes him so representative. Indeed, especially after A. G. Stephens became its first official literary (or Red Page) editor in 1896, much of the poetry of the Bulletin itself comprised late-romantic or symbolist-influenced lyrics – a fact that literary histories sometimes overlook, especially when stressing the exceptionalism of Christopher Brennan. Poets who combined what might be called verse journalism with a serious dedication to high art included Louisa Lawson (Henry’s feminist mother and editor of the Dawn), Arthur Adams, David McKee Wright (both later Red Page editors) and Mary Gilmore (women’s editor of the Worker), to name some of the most prominent. The poetjournalist tradition would continue in a much attenuated way into the 1920s and 30s, notably in the work of C. J. Dennis on the Melbourne Herald and Kenneth Slessor on Smith’s Weekly, and finally ended with Ronald McCuaig, last of the Bulletin court poets, in the early 1960s. Like most of his peers, Daley was a metropolitan poet; but among Stephens’ prot´eg´es was the remarkable John Shaw Neilson, who worked as an itinerant rural labourer for most of his life. Neilson was born in South Australia, but his family became pioneers in western Victoria, and from the age of nine he grew up under the huge skies of the 9 Harold Oliver (ed.), ‘Introduction’, Australian Poets: Victor Daley, A&R, 1963, pp. v–vi.


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Wimmera and Mallee regions – landscapes that form the backdrop to much of his verse. Though he had little formal schooling, his Scottish father (also called John) had none at all, but was an award-winning, locally popular poet. In those days uneducated did not mean unlettered. Neilson’s own early verse was first published along with his father’s in the Nhill Mail, and he even had a poem in the Bulletin Reciter. But it was not until he came under Stephens’ wing that he gradually gained a national reputation. Playing a literary Svengali to the self-effacing Neilson, Stephens regularly altered what he saw as rough lines and verses, though with growing self-confidence Neilson eventually learned to stand up for himself. Because of his ‘peasant’ origins and lowly working life, there has been a tendency to regard Neilson as a naive lyricist, as what A. R. Chisholm called our ‘sweetest singer’10 – a reputation that downplays not only his intelligence, but also the humour and occasional bitterness in his work. Despite his long years working in it – or rather because of them – for Neilson the bush was not a field of heroic male action, as it was for many of the balladists. Instead, with all its hardships, nature was romantically full of beauty and animistic insight. Coming from semi-desert country, Neilson was especially drawn to water birds, notably brolgas, whose elegance of form and movement spoke deeply to his own instincts, as in ‘The Crane is My Neighbour’: ‘He bleats no instruction, he is not an arrogant drummer; / His gown is simplicity – blue as the smoke of the summer’. ‘Native Companions Dancing’ captures the birds’ courtship in a frieze of words: On the blue plains in wintry days The stately birds move in the dance. Keen eyes have they, and quaint old ways On the blue plains in wintry days. The Wind, their unseen Piper, plays. They strut, salute, retreat, advance; On the blue plains, in wintry days, The stately birds move in the dance.

The verbal patterning in this poem highlights a more abstract, purely aesthetic quality also evident in Neilson’s verse that takes its cue from symbolism. Sydney Long’s contemporary Art Nouveau painting ‘The Spirit of the Plains’, featuring a ballet of brolgas dancing across the canvas to the music of a flute-playing nymph, might almost have been intended as an illustration. Chisholm’s statement that Neilson ‘was probably not acquainted with Symbolist doctrine and practice, at any rate in a direct and significant way’11 overlooks the fact symbolist thought had already infiltrated early 20th-century Australian art, and that local 10 A. R. Chisholm, ‘A Study of Shaw Neilson’, in Chisholm (ed.), Shaw Neilson: Selected Poems, A&R, 1973, p. 1. 11 Ibid., p. 16.


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examples were everywhere to be found. Certainly Neilson read Stephens’ own journal, the Bookfellow, where it was discussed, and owned a copy of The Heart of the Rose, which contained Nettie Palmer’s translation of Verlaine’s Art Po´etique.12 The symbolist influence is apparent in Neilson’s synaesthesia, as in the translucent opening of ‘Love’s Coming’: Quietly as rosebuds Talk to the thin air Love came so lightly I knew not it was there.

Yet this simile also takes a step beyond symbolism and towards imagism: to what Ezra Pound called ‘an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time’.13 The tension between metaphor and meaning is played out in the dialogic structure of Neilson’s most celebrated poem, ‘The Orange Tree’, where the girl finally responds to the speaker’s badgering questions with – Silence! the young girl said. Oh, why, Why will you talk to weary me? Plague me no longer now, for I Am listening like the Orange Tree.

In its evocation of an experience beyond the margins of thought, Hal Porter described ‘The Orange Tree’ as ‘like reading smoke’.14 Yet the poem emerged directly from the poet’s working life: ‘When I was working up at Merbein I could not help noticing the beautiful light on the trees in the afternoon.’15 This was symbolism with its sleeves rolled up. The poetry of Hugh McCrae was often compared to that of Neilson for its lyrical beauty, although he played a very different kind of tune. McCrae is not always as rumbustious as he is in ‘I Blow My Pipes’, but it gives a glimpse of the life-affirming physicality of his verse, as well as its Eurocentrism: I blow my pipes, the glad birds sing, The fat young nymphs about me spring, The sweaty centaur leaps the trees And bites his dryad’s splendid knees; The sky, the water, and the earth Repeat aloud our noisy mirth . . . 12 Helen Hewson, ‘Introduction’, John Shaw Neilson: A Life in Letters, MUP, 2001, pp. 13–14. The Heart of the Rose was a Melbourne literary journal edited by Bernard O’Dowd that ran for four issues – each under a different title – in 1907–8. 13 Ezra Pound, ‘A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste’, in Peter Jones (ed.), Imagist Poetry, Penguin, 1972, p. 131. 14 Hal Porter, The Extra, cited in Hewson, John Shaw Neilson, p. 290. 15 Shaw Neilson to James Devaney, 28 October 1934, in ibid., pp. 277–8.


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His first and most substantial collection was titled Satyrs and Sunlight (1909), the Sunlight giving it a local slant. ‘Ambuscade’ from that book reads like ‘The Man from Snowy River’ acted out by centaurs. Yet the creatures of Graeco-Roman mythology make up only one of McCrae’s poetic troupes, which also include mediaeval, 18th-century, commedia dell’arte and, occasionally, oriental figures. Such figures were also favoured by his close friend, the artist Norman Lindsay – so much so, in fact, that it remains an open question who most influenced whom. As Robert Hughes wrote of Lindsay, ‘his art was a costume party’.16 Neilson’s best work survives because it builds on the more modernist elements of his late romantic style, such as strength and simplicity of imagery and colour – qualities that ally it with imagism – and an avoidance of archaic language. McCrae’s poetry, on the other hand, failed fully to modernise its sources and so seems more historically circumscribed, more like pastiche. Something as melodramatic as the following, for example, is now hard to take seriously, though it might be reclaimed as kitsch: The curtains sway; they open from my bed – When, lo, the ghastly slime-surrounded head Of the foul dragon Tantacalladon! The thunders roar, the night is filled with wan, Pale images; and white Alcaphra leers Under his turban, till his jewelled ears Flick like the marish flame old goblins wave Above the dead rogue in the cross-road grave. ‘Tantacalladon’

In his day, though, McCrae was a major figure. Lindsay regarded him as having ‘fathered’ Australian poetry into being, virtually single-handed,17 and Slessor similarly honoured him, claiming him as ‘kin’ to the Elizabethans.18 The fact is that McCrae’s theatrical brio and candid sensuality stood out from the mainstream of bush balladeers, topical wits and bloodless second-rate poetasters that filled the local literary marketplaces. Strange to say, he looked modern because he seemed a universal poet, one who could take inspiration from all ages and, thereby, transcend them. To that extent, too, McCrae’s verse, like Lindsay’s art, functioned as what Hughes called a ‘tradition-substitute’.19 As for his modernity, Norman’s brother Lionel advised readers in the Lone Hand ‘not to be led astray by the dress of [McCrae’s] poems – Greek chlamys or English Lincoln-green are of no moment; the spirit that animates them is that of the early twentieth century’.20 For his contemporaries, it was 16 Robert Hughes, The Art of Australia, Penguin, 1981, p. 84. 17 Norman Lindsay, ‘Hugh McCrae’, Bohemians of the Bulletin, A&R, 1965, p. 126. 18 Kenneth Slessor, ‘Australian Poetry: 3. Hugh McCrae’, in Slessor, Bread and Wine: Selected Prose, A&R, 1970, p. 110. 19 Hughes, Art of Australia, p. 86. 20 Cited in Slessor, ‘Australian Poetry: 3’, p. 102.


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McCrae’s vitalism that linked him to the Zeitgeist, although these days he sounds more like Rupert Brooke than D. H. Lawrence: I kissed her breasts; and she, with golden eyes Like the hot panther leaning to the brook, Bloomed into passion, while her thirsty cries Throbbed through the night till all her body shook. ‘Sensual Love’

Writing sex can set a trap for any author. Bernard O’Dowd once seriously described a bed as a ‘Benign necropolis of maidenhead’ (‘The Bed’), and it gives a fair hint of his poetic manner: humourless, overblown, and relentlessly allegorical. Yet O’Dowd was a major figure in the Melbourne scene, where he worked for many years as a public servant and, later, parliamentary draughtsman. Radical, and eclectically intellectual, he had a Shelleyan faith in poetry’s central role in the betterment of humanity, as expressed in his 1909 manifesto, Poetry Militant. There he called upon ‘the poets hidden among the people, the young and appointed saviours of the people, to come out into the open with the other soldiers of reform’.21 O’Dowd’s early sequences Dawnward?, The Silent Land and Dominions of the Boundary were all written in ballad metre – not the loping lines of the bush ballad, but the Common Measure of hymns. Densely crammed with ideas and allusions, their impact is a triumph of compression over comprehension. His reputation rests on the long discursive poem The Bush (1912), where the pentameter line permitted some relaxation of his allegorical shorthand. O’Dowd’s bush remains an abstract symbol, even so: a focus for historical, cultural and political speculation rather than a real landscape. Christopher Brennan was for Sydney what O’Dowd was for Melbourne: a local hero whose reputation, even today, does not travel well beyond his home town. Both wrote notoriously knotty, difficult to understand poems and, partly for that reason, both had passionate followers and converts. Brennan corresponded with Mallarm´e, O’Dowd with Whitman: very different masters. Yet Brennan’s reputation is currently stronger than O’Dowd’s for reasons similar to those that explain why Neilson now seems to matter more than McCrae: the incipient modernism in his work, linked to symbolist influences – although whether he can truly be styled ‘modernist’ is a matter of some debate. A brilliant classical scholar, Brennan pursued a tenuous career as a librarian and academic until the University of Sydney eventually employed him on a permanent basis to teach modern languages and literature. Like a good Victorian, he had taken up poetry as a religion after abandoning his Catholicism around the age of 20. Brennan’s status rests on the sprawling, discontinuous sequence simply titled Poems,22 his own highly 21 Bernard O’Dowd, ‘Poetry Militant’, The Poems of Bernard O’Dowd, Lothian, 1941, p. 30. 22 Often rendered as Poems (1913), the date printed on the title page.


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original version of a French symbolist livre compos´e, semi-dramatic and symphonic, and bound together by recurring poetic symbols like musical leitmotifs. At the heart of Poems is a gnostic quest for Eden, which is less a state of primal innocence than of spiritual wholeness – a version of O’Dowd’s metaphysical bush, perhaps. The book begins with a section called ‘Towards the Source’, which seeks an exalted redemption through love, taking its inspiration from Brennan’s early relationship with his wife, a marriage that quickly soured. In the second section, ‘The Forest of Night’, the speaker remains restless, and Eve is replaced by Lilith, ‘Lady of Night’, symbolising the elusive nature of all absolutes: All mystery, and all love, beyond our ken, she woos us, mournful till we find her fair: and gods and stars and songs and souls of men are the sparse jewels in her scatter’d hair.

Lilith is thus the decadent femme fatale on a cosmic scale. Up to this point Brennan follows a high romantic path: what James McAuley would describe as the ‘Magian Heresy’, whereby poetry ‘sought to be the principle of its own mysticism, to divinize itself; poetic imagination was itself to be the Logos’.23 As Brennan put it: What do I seek? I seek the word that shall become the deed of might whereby the sullen gulfs are stirr’d and stars begotten on their night.

The last sections of Poems abdicate this role, however. The best-known of them, ‘The Wanderer’, while still couched in heroic terms, embraces a contingent notion of existence as becoming, as endless movement, projecting the speaker as a kind of epic flˆaneur who ‘knows / no ending of the way, no home, no goal’. In the last of the book’s ‘Epilogues’, Brennan is back in history, on a George Street tram in 1908, repledging his faith in Eden, but as ‘promis’d only’, never realised, whose promise now takes in the spiritual urges of his fellow Sydneysiders: ‘one with my own, however dark, / and questing towards one mother-ark’. Like so much else about Brennan’s life, Poems was inopportune, appearing shortly before Christmas 1914 and promptly disappearing under the weight of the Great War.24 If early critics, such as Randolph Hughes, tended to over-hype Brennan, the tendency among more recent commentators has been to damn with faint praise. Most critics sense there is something more or less ‘modernist’ going on in Brennan’s work, but 23 James McAuley, ‘Journey into Egypt’, in Leonie Kramer (ed.), James McAuley: Poetry, Essays and Personal Commentary, UQP, 1988, p. 185. Recently Katherine Barnes in The Higher Self in Christopher Brennan’s Poems: Esotericism, Romanticism, Symbolism, Brill, 2006, has argued in favour of Brennan’s hermeticism in ‘exploring the notion of a higher or transcendent self constituted by the union of the human mind and Nature . . . Brennan’s understanding of esoteric and mystical currents put him in a privileged position for understanding the religious affinities of certain aspects of Romantic and Symbolist thought’, pp. 2, 8. 24 Axel Clark, Christopher Brennan: A Critical Biography, MUP, 1980, p. 213.


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baulk at his language, which seems of its period. Even so sympathetic a critic as Terry Sturm has described his verse as ‘uneven, remaining enmeshed in the stylistic mannerisms of the late nineteenth century’.25 Vivian Smith elegantly condensed this ambivalence towards Brennan when he remarked that ‘he will not go away, and he cannot be tamed into perfection’.26 Brennan’s style can in some ways be compared to the ‘free music’ machines that composer Percy Grainger invented in the latter part of his life. The experimental music these devices produced was radical, extraordinary; but unfortunately later developments in electronics rendered their mechanically produced sounds redundant, taking Western avant-garde music in other directions. That fact does not make Grainger less of a modern composer, though. Though Brennan ended his Poems on the streets of Sydney, he remained the poet as hierophant, and that mystique further enhanced his bohemian reputation as one of the wonders of Sydney. Unlike every other poet so far considered in this chapter – even McCrae, who had a minor career as an actor, and starred in a silent film about Gordon – Brennan had no significant connection with popular culture. But, with the possible exception of Ern Malley, he fitted the role of the damaged romantic-modernist genius in a way that no other Australian poet ever has, especially after his shabby decline following dismissal from the university. ‘A star in exile; not constellated at the South’, as McCrae described him.27 Just as unconstellated was Lesbia Harford, and a more different poet to Brennan is hard to imagine. Many of Harford’s colloquial, unpretentious lyrics were written to be sung: ‘As natural as the song of a bird’, recalled one of her lovers.28 That simile disregards the surprising modernity of Harford’s work, in particular its acute understanding of class: When you go in to town about eleven The hurrying, morning crowds are hid from view. Shut in the silent buildings at eleven They toil to make life meaningless for you. ‘The Invisible People’

From a genteel poor background, Harford studied law at the University of Melbourne where she became involved in socialist circles. After graduation, in solidarity with the proletariat she took jobs in clothing factories, eventually joining the Industrial Workers of the World – popularly known as the Wobblies – in 1917.29 Her commitment was a hard road made harder by a congenital heart condition, which helped to kill her at 36.30 25 Terry Sturm (ed.), introduction, Portable Australian Authors: Christopher Brennan, UQP, 1984, p. [xv]. 26 Vivian Smith, ‘Poetry’, in Leonie Kramer (ed.), The Oxford History of Australian Literature, OUP, 1981, p. 337. 27 Hugh McCrae to Rupert Atkinson, [1932?], in Robert D. FitzGerald (ed.), The Letters of Hugh McCrae, A&R, 1970, p. 91. 28 Guido Baracchi, ‘Rebel Girl’, Baracchi Collection, MS 5241/39, NLA. 29 Jeff Sparrow, ‘Signed Up in a Rebel Band: Lesbia Harford Re-Viewed’, Hecate, 32.1 (2006), p. 11. 30 Her ADB entry says she died from tuberculosis: Lesley Lamb, ‘Harford, Lesbia Venner’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 9, MUP, 1983, p. 196.


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As Drusilla Modjeska observed,31 Harford’s verse is aligned with a radical tradition in Australian poetry going back to Lawson; it includes Mary Gilmore who, like Harford, was also concerned to describe women’s experiences. But Harford’s verse is minimalist, personalised and anti-domestic. She embodies her vision of the revolution as a lover: She is not of the fireside, My lovely love; Nor books, nor even a cradle, She bends above. No, she is bent with lashes, Her flesh is torn. From blackness into blackness She walks forlorn. But factories and prisons Are far more fair Than home or palace gardens If she is there.

Harford in fact wrote more love poetry, much of it homoerotic, than political verse. Even so, for her the personal was political: For no two lovers are a single person And lovers’ union means a soul’s suppression. Oh happy then the moment of love’s passing When those strong souls we sought to slay recover.

Her factory poems celebrate the everyday lives of her fellow workers; like Gertie, who arrives at work more cheerfully one day after having dreamt of her homeland (‘The Immigrant’); or Maisie, who shyly but proudly reveals her lovebites (‘An Improver’). Open to ordinary experience, with a freshness and frankness that eschews Victorian mannerisms, these are perhaps the first unambiguously modernist poems by an Australian. Yet until fairly recently Harford was a tantalising mystery. Very few of her poems appeared in her lifetime and, until 1985, only one slim, safe selection had seen print. No doubt the radical qualities of her work, both formally and politically, were a hindrance. Jeff Sparrow further suggests that her link with the syndicalist IWW ‘almost certainly contributed to her long neglect’ by the communist left.32 Nonetheless, Harford never pressed her poetic claims too strongly and, despite the accessibility of her verse, seems to have written more for personal pleasure, to share with her close friends, than for publication. Harford’s reticence may also have been a response to the low status accorded women’s verse in the public sphere. Ann Vickery writes in Stressing the Modern, ‘As in other 31 Drusilla Modjeska, ‘Introduction’, in Modjeska and Marjorie Pizer (eds), The Poems of Lesbia Harford, A&R, 1985, p. 32. 32 Sparrow, ‘Signed Up in a Rebel Band’, p. 9.


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countries, it was common for Australian critics to dismiss women’s poetry as frivolous or slight.’33 Mary Fullerton was another unforthcoming poet, whose strikingly original later verse was written in England largely for private circulation. When it was finally published in two collections in Australia under the pseudonym ‘E’, the modernising influence of Emily Dickinson was clearly evident: A holiday from Use: Beauty storms me With her impetuous Inutility. While this fire warms me I’ll let Want go, And laugh, remembering My cold self in the snow. ‘Interlude’

More forthright was Zora Cross, the ‘shocking’ sexual passion of whose Songs of Love and Life (1917) made her briefly popular – Vickery compares her to Edna St Vincent Millay34 – but also elicited hostile responses from some male writers. The breakdown of old power structures during the Great War unleashed possibilities for social transformation, and the verse of Harford and Cross responded to these. Elsewhere the reaction was more conservative and patriotic, focusing on the conflict in Europe and the Dardanelles. Like many lesser scribblers, Brennan wrote some orotundly jingoistic poems, collected as A Chant of Doom and Other Verses (1918), whose success surprised him. It was during the war that Dorothea Mackellar’s ‘My Country’, written in 1908, achieved the anthemic status it has possessed ever since. Mackellar’s love of country consecrates the old dualistic view of the bush by yet again feminising its ‘wilful, lavish’ diversity: ‘Her beauty and her terror / – The wide brown land for me!’ Many soldiers wrote poetry, as shown by The Anzac Book (1915), a miscellany of prose, verse and drawings produced by the troops at Gallipoli and edited by C. E. W. Bean. The outstanding soldier poet was Leon Gellert, whose Songs of a Campaign swings between turbid allegory and stark realism. ‘The Wrecked Aeroplane’, for example, begins ‘Unhappy craft of Daedelus reborn / That liest prone with white wings torn’. This is immediately followed by ‘The Jester in the Trench’, which might almost have been written by another poet: ‘That reminds me of a yarn,’ he said; And everyone turned to hear his tale. He had a thousand yarns inside his head. They waited for him, ready with their mirth And creeping smiles, – then suddenly turned pale, 33 Ann Vickery, Stressing the Modern: Cultural Politics in Australian Women’s Poetry, Salt, 2007, p. 12. 34 Ibid., p. 190.


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Grew still, and gazed upon the earth. They heard no tale. No further word was said. And with his untold fun, Half leaning on his gun, They left him – dead.

After the war, under the sway of Lindsay, Gellert opted for the allegorical mode with The Isle of San (1919), although he later produced a series of light verses on local wildlife in the style of Ogden Nash, Those Beastly Australians (1944). The real poetic success story of the war was C. J. Dennis’ The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (1915), which sold an extraordinary 100 000 copies in four years.35 In a sequence of comic ballads, Bill, a roughneck larrikin, tells of his reformation through marriage to Doreen, his ‘precious bit o’ fluff ’. The great popularity of the Sentimental Bloke marks a point in time when Australians could take delight in an urban self-image. Through his gentrification, Bill even manages to accommodate high culture, as in ‘The Play’, his justly famous retelling of Romeo and Juliet in larrikinese. The Songs themselves achieved crossover appeal, and were filmed twice – Raymond Longford’s 1919 silent version is a classic – and translated into a play, a musical and a ballet. If Dennis’ Bloke speaks more like a stage cockney than a member of the Melbourne underclass, his knockabout, saltof-the earth character nevertheless channels elements of the old Bulletin school – which is hardly surprising, since the individual poems first appeared there. But Bill chooses suburban bliss with his domestic angel over the male separatist ethos of the push, and is rewarded by deus ex machina Uncle Jim with an orchard. Going bush with his family, the Bloke’s redemption is completed by a demotic vision of Brennan’s Eden: ‘An’ I am blest, becos me feet ’ave trod / A land ’oo’s fields reflect the smile o’ God.’ Yet the drift of post-war life was in the other direction, towards the big smoke. Jack O’Hagan’s well-known song, ‘Along the Road to Gundagai’ (1922), with its simple, nostalgic picture of a childhood home ‘Where the blue gums are growing / And the Murrumbidgee’s flowing’, further suggests how deeply citified Australians now were. The lyrics dream of returning to the bush because to grow up – psychologically, nationally – implicitly involves leaving it. Though the song draws on the ballad tradition, O’Hagan’s real inspiration lay in Tin Pan Alley. At the time of composition he had never been to Gundagai, and only came to write it following rejection of an earlier ditty called ‘Down Carolina Way’.36 Gundagai, Carolina: in the new mass culture such local details were transferable. From the 1920s, with the development of radio and the electronic reproduction of sound, lyrical poetry was increasingly consumed in the form of popular song – a trend that continues unabated to this day. The rise of broadcast media also reined in 35 Jennifer Alison, ‘Publishers and Editors: Angus & Robertson, 1888–1945’, in Martyn Lyons and John Arnold (eds), A History of the Book in Australia, 1891–1945: A National Culture in a Colonised Market, UQP, 2001, p. 32. 36 ‘John Francis “Jack” O’Hagan’, An Unofficial History of Brighton Cemetery, .


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the press and produced a growing monopolisation of newspapers, notably during the Great Depression when many greater and lesser mastheads crashed. Concentration of ownership also tended to constrict diversity and abet tabloidisation. The journalistic market for verse was rapidly drying up. In most major metropolitan newspapers the space once taken up by a soulful sonnet or topical lampoon was given over to something more profitably eye-catching: a photo, an ad. Radio silenced poetry in a more literal way as well. The wireless spoke in a friendly, intimate voice to the very heart of the modern home – a voice that made older forms of public speech that had evolved in a world without microphones seem overly rhetorical and histrionic. Radio not only offered alternative entertainment to reading, but the new domestic soundscape it created was inimical to older elocutionary styles of performance, and to traditional recitation. The days of both the professional and amateur reciter were now numbered. Ronald McCuaig was writing ‘Topical Choruses’ on items from the daily news for station 2BL in the late 1920s, but these were sung and, in any case, the practice did not last. By 1950 John Thompson would be experimenting with new ways of broadcasting verse at the ABC with a view to attracting a bigger audience for it. His high hopes were disappointed, though: the days when poetry performances were genuinely popular were by then well and truly over.37 The decline of poetry in everyday life can only partly be blamed on the transformation of the mass media in the early 20th century. The evolution of modernism and its rise to cultural authority after the Great War had an obvious role to play, for modernism was antipathetic to both the mass media and the everyday life that it served. Free verse did not lend itself to histrionic recitation in quite the same way as traditional metres, since a lot of modern poetry was designed to be difficult, requiring close, silent study in order to yield up a meaning. The short-lived Sydney journal Vision (1923–4) offers a local version of the little magazines that elsewhere characterised the modernist avant-garde. As it despised modernist experimentation, the Vision agenda was hardly cutting-edge, yet what it had in common with overseas journals like Blast or The Egoist was an outright rejection of popular culture and ‘herd’ society, expressed in a dismissal of artistic nationalism. Vision had a strident contempt for the vernacular realist tradition of the Bulletin, and sought instead to sublimate art into the realm of the eternal, basing its program on the vitalist aesthetics of Lindsay’s 1919 essay Creative Effort. As Norman’s son, Jack, the journal’s main driving force, argued in a leading essay in the first issue, ‘It is a short-sighted Nationalism that can be proud only of verse about shearers and horses, and measures the reality of a work by its local references.’38 Instead, the aim was nothing less than an Australian-led Renaissance, kitted out in the costumes and stage props of Norman’s art. 37 Kirkpatrick, ‘Hunting the Wild Reciter’, pp. 67–70. 38 Jack Lindsay, ‘Australian Poetry and Nationalism’, Vision, 1 (1923), p. 34.


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With all its pretensions, Vision also resembled the international avant-garde in its critical reaction to the spiritual malaise left by the Great War. Rather than conceive an art that might speak to that disenchantment, however, it rejected modernity out of hand. Slessor, the poetry editor, was a stylishly dressed young journalist who affected to hate the new-fangled age which he had to report. Even before he joined the magazine, in ‘Marco Polo’ he dreamed of going primitive: And, tired of life’s new-fangled plan, I long to be barbarian. I’m sick of modern men, I wish You were still living, Kublai-Khan!

Disillusionment with modern life led many artists to dream of exotic elsewheres. The Australian expatriate W. J. Turner, who was associated with the English Georgian poets, longed for a mystical South America: ‘Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, / They had stolen my soul away!’ (‘Romance’). Rather than looking for redemption in nature, though, Slessor’s poem seeks it in the highly wrought chinoiserie of the Khan’s pleasure dome. This romantic faith in artistic transcendence – that art and the imagination can finally rescue us from the meaningless of the everyday – Slessor derived in part from Lindsay. But by the end of the 1920s Slessor became less inclined to visit the barley-sugar landscapes of romantic fantasy and found himself ‘beating off the stars, gazing, not rhyming’ (‘Stars’). For one of the young lions of Sydney journalism, it was no longer possible to be a barbarian – not even imaginatively so. Slessor had joined Smith’s Weekly, a populist, belligerently nationalist paper that took over from the Bulletin as a shaper of Australian identity, especially as embodied in the returned digger, whom it venerated. Despite its political conservatism, however, it was innovative in content and design, and willing to take risks – even with poetry. Between 1928 and 1933, on top of his other journalistic duties at Smith’s, Slessor wrote the occasional series of light verses known as ‘Darlinghurst Nights’. In these humorous reflections on Sydney and its fashions, he found a relaxed lyrical space in which to reinvest some of the fantasy elements from his earlier poems into everyday life, and the result can transform the city into pastoral: When Cucumber Kitty comes mocking the city, The boulevards burst into bud, The dusty old alleys breathe Roger and Gallet’s And daffodils blaze in the mud.

The witty, agile versification of these poems links them to the contemporary songs of Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart and No¨el Coward. Slessor also wrote light verse for Smith’s that touched directly on recent events. ‘Passenger by “Greycliffe” ’, in the issue for 11 November 1927, refers to loss of 40 lives


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eight days earlier when the steamer Tahiti collided with the ferry Greycliffe in Sydney Harbour’s worst maritime accident. The ‘Passenger’ in the title is Death: Sometimes he lights a lantern far below; The cloudy waters melt, the shadows pass, Foam turns to crystal; down a tunnel of glass, We gaze at things forgotten long ago. The Harbour opens like a sepulchre Its golden trap-door, air and birds one side, And on the other, sea-flowers in the tide And white, dead bodies; and the Passenger.

In this fugitive, almost forgotten piece lies the germ of Slessor’s later poems about the harbour. First, there is a magical transformation, as there so often is in his earlier, more rococo works; only here it is a deathly sea-change, revealed like the opening of a tomb. But, as in Ariel’s song in The Tempest, the beauty of the language redeems the horror, and it unfolds as an eternal moment, as a thing ‘forgotten long ago’ brought back into the present. That language is also built upon what Slessor called ‘concrete images’, based on an ‘abhorrence of abstraction’39 – which was one positive, modernist legacy of Vision and Lindsay. Slessor’s ‘big’ poems from the late 1920s and 30s – ‘Captain Dobbin’, ‘Five Visions of Captain Cook’, ‘Five Bells’ – as well as some smaller ones – ‘Out of Time’, ‘Metempsychosis’ – are obsessed with the passage of time, and what British cultural historian Tim Armstrong calls ‘a desire to wrest agency from modernity’s appearance as an inevitable flow’.40 ‘Five Visions’, in particular, might be seen as an attempt to create – to borrow a phrase from the American critic Van Wyck Brooks – a ‘useable past’: ‘So Cook made choice, so Cook sailed westabout, / So men write poems in Australia’. Memory is crucial in all these works; no more so than in ‘Five Bells’ where, as ‘the flood that does not flow’, it stands in opposition to the dark waters that roll over Joe Lynch as an image of time as flux. Because it represented real, lived time, as distinct from the abstract ticking of clocks – ‘Time that is moved by little fidget wheels’ – memory was also important to Slessor’s contemporaries. In a Bergsonian way it was equated with consciousness itself. Furnley Maurice’s Melbourne Odes (1934) take as their focus the changing fabric of the city and seek, through memory, to make sense of the onrush of progress: Roll on, proud thoroughfares! Roll on, O Cadillac and Chevrolet! Roll over a city that is gone, over a lovelier city way; The perilous cranes, the crashing walls, mad drills that wrench our nerves apart, Barter their trucks of rubble spawls for a changed town and a changing heart. 39 Slessor, ‘Australian Poetry: 4. Norman Lindsay’, in Slessor, Bread and Wine, p. 124. 40 Tim Armstrong, Modernism: A Cultural History, Polity, 2005, p. 11.


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R. D. FitzGerald’s prize-winning ‘Essay on Memory’ (1938) construes its subject in opposition to history as a form of vital collective unconscious: for Memory does not fail though men forget, but pokes a ghost-finger into all our pies and jabs out the dead meat, a grim Jack Horner, mocking the mild dream, half guess, half lies, of History babbling from his chimney-corner.

Australia’s short European history seemed flat, uneventful and inauthentic: a function of what Peter Pierce has called, more generally, ‘the topos of colonial absences’.41 In an article in the Age in 1935, G. H. Cowling, Professor of English at Melbourne University, infamously complained about the lack of tradition in Australia – including an absence of ruins – and felt that ‘a poetry which reflects past glories’ was therefore impossible.42 Vision’s old world dress-ups were one response to this perceived lack of a ‘vital’ history; the celebration of memory was another. Still another was to appeal to a neglected prehistory. By the late 1920s interest in Indigenous culture gradually began to shift beyond anthropology and into the mainstream. The consolidation of Australian nationhood during and after the Great War, and the final closing of the frontier – the last known wholesale murder of Aborigines, a series of events known as the Coniston massacre, took place in the Northern Territory in 1928 – meant that some unfinished business of invasion and settlement might at last be addressed. Collections of Aboriginal mythic stories began to appear: James Devaney’s The Vanished Tribes (1929), but also those recorded by Indigenous polymath David Unaipon, which were published without acknowledgement under the title Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals (1930). Gilmore included ground-breaking poems on Aboriginal subjects in The Wild Swan (1930) and Under the Wilgas (1932), some of which incorporated Indigenous words: Land of Mirrabooka, Land of Kollarendi, Lo, we have wakened thee, We of the Northland.

(Gilmore’s glossary gives Mirrabooka as the Southern Cross, and Kollarendi as ‘coolabah blossom’.) It was in this context that the Adelaide-based Jindyworobak poets emerged, whose vanguard comprised Rex Ingamells, Wilfred Flexmore Hudson and Ian Mudie. Ingamells’ 1938 nationalistic essay ‘Conditional Culture’ was their founding manifesto, 41 Peter Pierce, Absences, University of New England, 1993, p. 3. 42 G. H. Cowling, cited in P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia: An Essay Towards National Self-Respect, 1936, introduction by Craig Munro, A&U, 1986, p. 20.


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and among the conditions set down to ‘free Australian art from whatever alien influences trammel it’ was ‘an understanding of Australia’s history and traditions, primeval, colonial and modern’.43 The inclusion of ‘primaeval’ traditions was radical. When Ingamells came to write a narrative history of Australia in the form of an epic poem, The Great South Land (1951), he included the continent’s pre-history, offering a theology based on the Dreaming – rendered from Arrernte as Alcheringa: Alcheringa is this Land’s very soul, its bold and subtle essences imbue Australian scenes forever, constitute a bright allure and stern hypnotic power; it is the breath of sacred Yesterday, with import for Today and all Tomorrow, proof of primaeval first discovery, by nomad people, of the Great South Land, and how to live with it, in harmony of arduous enterprise, the life of good.

An interest in Aboriginal culture was only part of the Jindyworobak platform, but it was a significant part – especially for Ingamells. He took the name of the movement, meaning ‘to annex, to join’, from the glossary of Devaney’s The Vanished Tribes, and the emphasis was on annexation rather than joining. In effect, many Jindyworobak poems tried to ventriloquise Aboriginality. The limits of Ingamells’ thinking become evident in his own early macaronic verse, in which the interpolation of Indigenous words is both baffling and potentially comic. Take the much-quoted ‘Moorawathimeering’, translated in the requisite glossary as ‘the land of the Lost, a sanctuary for outcasts’: Into moorawathimeering, where atninga dare not tread, leaving wurly for a wilban, tallabilla, you have fled . . .

This might seem an unlovely hybrid, a bastard concoction that speaks more eloquently of its author’s intentions than it does about the poem’s putative subject of banishment (tallabilla is rendered as ‘outlaw’). Max Harris implied that it was in effect a nonsense rhyme when he referred to it as a ‘serious Jabberwocky’.44 Yet the alienating effect of the language is mimetic of the exile that the poem describes. The white reader is linguistically cast out, and to find the way in has to learn a new code – but it is a faux, Jindyworobak code. Ingamells was not a student of Indigenous languages but lifted his strange lexicon from Devaney. 43 Rex Ingamells, ‘Conditional Culture’, in John Barnes (ed.), The Writer in Australia: A Collection of Literary Documents 1856 to 1964, OUP, 1969, p. 249. 44 Max Harris, ‘Dance Little Wombat’, in Brian Elliot (ed.), Portable Australian Authors: The Jindyworobaks, UQP, 1979, p. 261.


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Underlying Jindyworobak Aboriginalism is a longing for the ‘primitive’ as both a critique of, and solution to, the problems of modernity – a case of going back to the future. As such, it can be situated within a wider modernist impulse that includes Picasso’s interest in African tribal art, or even dadaist sound poems such as Hugo Ball’s jolifanto bambla oˆ falli bambla grossiga m’pfa habla horem e´ giga goramen higo bloiko russula huju . . . 45

For the Jindyworobaks, though, the need to assert national identity tended to constrain innovation at the same time as inviting it. Their experimental phase was short lived, and after World War II they were gradually subsumed in a wider lyrical current that Ivor Indyk has labelled ‘pastoral’;46 it included poets as diverse as Judith Wright, Douglas Stewart and David Campbell, whose main careers lie beyond the period covered by this chapter. When the avant-garde finally arrived in Australia it did not speak in an Indigenous tongue, nor in a white male vernacular, but in the language of the subconscious. The journal Angry Penguins (1940–6) was established by Harris in Adelaide, but later bankrolled and published in Melbourne by the wealthy art patrons John and Sunday Reed. Harris, who had been a member of the Jindyworobak Club, rapidly transformed himself into the Bad Boy of Australian poetry, a born-again surrealist with an iconoclastic flair who cocked a snook at older literary proprieties. The prominence of Angry Penguins serves to show that, though the Bulletin was still a power in the land, the management of poetry had substantially shifted from the control of journalists, popular publishers and elocutionists and into the hands of elites, who were often connected with academia. The 1930s saw an upsurge of small magazines, including the modernist journal Stream (1931), edited by Cyril Pearl, then a student at Melbourne University. Harris was also a student, and Angry Penguins began under the auspices of the Adelaide University Arts Association. Other university-linked journals which appeared at the same time but which still survive as major players are Southerly (Sydney, 1939), and Meanjin (Brisbane, 1940; Melbourne, 1945). Though it ran for only three issues, Stream is noteworthy as a precursor to Angry Penguins. Its poetry editor was Bertram Higgins, who had worked as a literary journalist in London before returning to Australia in 1930. Here he self-published the remarkable ‘Mordecaius’ Overture (1933), an apocalyptic poem in splintered voices that recalls Eliot’s The Waste Land, but takes the contrapuntal form of that work to a higher level of 45 Hugo Ball, from Tenderenda the Fantast, in Blago Bung Blago Bung Bosso Fataka: First Texts of German Dada, ed. and trans. Malcolm Green, Atlas, 1995, p. 137. 46 See Ivor Indyk, ‘The Pastoral Poets’, in Laurie Hergenhan (ed.), The Penguin New Literary History of Australia, Penguin, 1988.


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abstraction. Higgins’ modernism was intellectual and cosmopolitan. Mordecaius is a Tiresias-like figure whose experience of the destruction of Pompeii in 79 CE is refracted through memories of Christ’s crucifixion, and the poem gestures towards revelation while all the time withholding it: Arrears are demanded in a bill of dreams – With a sense of falling and a flow of gleet, Sundry pressing deaths on the left side: He who from the cave crops out – who shouts Vexing the prophecy with flushed face; She of the soundless robe, of tranquil mien Who evades the embrace (they fulfilled it on the breathless edge) On the edge of the living dream.

That Higgins brought out ‘Mordecaius’ Overture privately suggests that he was unwilling, or perhaps unable, to find a local publisher. Ronald McCuaig could not even get a printer to typeset his lyrics of modern love and its discontents, Vaudeville (1938). Deeming the collection too hot to handle, seven turned him down, fearing prosecution. As Deana Heath has written, ‘between 1901 and the Second World War, Australia had arguably the severest censorship laws of any democratic country’,47 and they extended their authoritarian influence into the general community. Yet McCuaig’s anti-romantic depictions of sex are troubled rather than titillating. ‘The Commercial Traveller’s Wife’ in the poem of that title offers herself to the speaker, her lodger, who rebuffs her with ‘Look at yourself in the glass’: She faced the mirror where she stood And sort of stiffened there. Her eyes went still as knots in a bit of wood, And it all seemed to sigh out of her: ‘All right,’ she said. ‘All right, all right, good night,’ As though she didn’t know if I’d heard, And shuffled out without another word.

McCuaig was forced to produce Vaudeville himself on a galley press in his Potts Point flat and distribute it privately. There was a lesson there for other young modernists about the danger of breaking moulds, especially in public. Harris’ bumptious conduct of Angry Penguins annoyed many who were not as convinced of his genius as he was. Among those were two increasingly conservative Sydney poets, James McAuley and Harold Stewart. Each had heard the siren song of modernism but managed largely to avoid temptation – though McAuley was more sorely tried than Stewart. The tale of their baiting of Harris through the invention of the 47 Deana Heath, ‘Literary Censorship, Imperialism and the White Australia Policy’, in Lyons and Arnold, History of the Book, p. 69.


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fictitious, recently deceased modernist poet Ern Malley is now well-known. Harris was taken in hook, line and sinker, and brought out a Malley commemorative issue of Angry Penguins in 1944. The hoax was soon revealed in the Sydney Sunday Sun and, as a result of world-wide publicity, injury was added to insult when Harris was made to stand trial in Adelaide for publishing an indecent work. Argument continues over the merits of Malley’s oeuvre, The Darkening Ecliptic – improvised by McAuley and Stewart in a single afternoon – though these days more people see at least some artistic value in the poems than do not. As fractured ‘surrealist’ works they shift between romantic melancholy, ‘It was a night when the planets / Were wreathed in dying garlands’, and low farce, ‘There is a moment when the pelvis / Explodes like a grenade’. The farcical aspect was fully exploited by the Sunday Sun in its expos´e, which positioned Harris’ statement that Malley was ‘one of the two giants of contemporary Australian poetry’ (the other, D. B. Kerr, had co-edited Angry Penguins) alongside absurd samples of the poems and the unexalted facts of the deception.48 The paper was thus able to draw upon the resentment of its readers, who had grown up with a very different understanding of the uses of poetry and its place in their lives, towards literary mandarins like Harris who had transformed it into something exclusive, wantonly obscure and pretentious. The public impact of the hoax was a product of this shift in the politics of readership, of who now ‘owned’ and controlled poetry as a cultural institution. This chapter began with one kind of hero, and it ends with another. The Man from Snowy River was an imaginary figure but over the years acquired a solidity through familiarity, so that many stockmen (falsely) claimed to have been Paterson’s inspiration. He has even appeared in popular films, the first as early as 1920, as well as his own television series. Ern Malley is a very different creation, since he began as a seemingly real person and has been trying to disappear ever since: It is necessary to understand That a poet may not exist, that his writings Are the incomplete circle and straight drop Of a question mark And yet I know I shall be raised up On the vertical banners of praise. ‘Sybilline’

Owing to his immateriality Malley maintains only a marginal position in popular culture, but has a celebrated place among cultural elites. If no feature films or TV series have been made about him, Sidney Nolan and Garry Shead have painted him, and Peter Carey has adapted his story in the novel My Life as a Fake (2003). In his own way, then, Malley is as much a legend as Paterson’s horseman – but among quite 48 ‘Ern Malley, the Great Poet or the Greatest Hoax?’, Sunday Sun, 18 June 1944, Fact, p. 1.


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a different set of people. That make-believe working-class surrealist, the tormented, loveless garage mechanic dead at the age of 25, represents the ultimate triumph of modernism. Back in 1890 a poem like ‘The Man from Snowy River’ could project a version of Australian identity in memorable, folkloric measures. But by 1944 Ern Malley was struggling to speak in a ‘No-Man’s-language appropriate / Only to No-Man’sLand’.



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Lacking much that cosmopolitan sophisticates draw upon, the Australian has nevertheless had to compete with the world. Miles Franklin, Laughter Not for a Cage, p. 214.

In London in June 1935, two Australian writers met on a train bound for Paris. Christina Stead, then 32, had only just moved back to London from Paris, where she and her partner William Blake had lived since 1929. Nettie Palmer, then 52, was struck by the younger woman’s worldliness: in her diary, she described Stead as ‘assured, perfectly dressed, tailored and supple’, and found no trace of an Australian accent in her ‘nodding sing-song voice’. For her part, Stead described Palmer as a ‘good-natured, schoolteacherish woman, totally without flair or imagination’.1 Stead and Palmer were travelling together as Australian representatives to the International Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture, a mass meeting of intellectuals against fascism held in Paris in June 1935. They spent a good deal of time together during the five days of the congress but did not warm to each other. They were two very different types of Australian writer. Though fluent in French and German and widely read in European and American literatures, Nettie and her husband Vance were energetically promoting the idea of a distinctively national Australian literary culture. Her landmark book, Modern Australian Literature, had appeared in 1924. Believing that many Australians were either indifferent to art and ideas or else subservient to overseas cultures – the old high culture of Europe and the new mass consumer culture of the United States – Nettie believed that ‘the future of an Australian literature depends on ourselves as critics and readers and enthusiasts’.2 Stead, by contrast, had been deeply affected by her life in Paris, where she and Blake mixed with the Left Bank’s vibrant community of writers, editors and artists. Her literary tastes were modern, even modernist; her influences were American and European, not Australian; and from Stead’s international perspective, Nettie’s vision of a national literature seemed as narrow and provincial as her appearance. Stead’s first published work, The Salzburg 1 My account of this meeting derives from Hazel Rowley, Christina Stead: A Biography, Heinemann, 1993, pp. 167–74. 2 Nettie Palmer, ‘Our Own Books: Do We Evoke Them?’, Brisbane Courier, 11 August 1928.


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Tales (1934), had recently appeared to international acclaim. Reviewers in Europe and North America welcomed her as a new Australian writer with cosmopolitan tastes. Nettie had seen Stead’s books in the window of Sylvia Beach’s bookshop in Paris alongside those of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. During the congress, she insisted that the Australians sit together but Stead declined, sitting instead with the English contingent. In their different personal styles, literary tastes and careers in writing, Palmer and Stead personify two different ways of being an Australian writer in the 1930s, especially in their chosen relationships to what Pascale Casanova calls ‘international literary space’ or ‘the world republic of letters’. This is organised around the great literary capitals of Paris, London and New York, where ‘universal’ aesthetic values take precedence over national affiliations. Paris is the ‘Greenwich Meridian’ of world literature, conferring modernity and world standing on the writers it takes up regardless of their original language or national culture. Palmer knew that this is ‘what the French call the “crowning” of a significant work’ or author; in Australia, she regretted, ‘there is no procedure for crowning’.3 Within world literary space, separate national literatures compete for prestige, though ultimate recognition can come only when a writer escapes from the ‘literary province’. The internal configuration of each national literature, in turn, mirrors the international literary world as a whole: it is structured by a rivalry between national and cosmopolitan values, between ‘“national” writers (who embody a national or popular definition of literature) and “international” writers (who uphold an autonomous conception of literature)’.4 The reserve that Stead and Palmer felt in each other’s company was not, then, purely personal: though both were Australian, they embodied the conflicting styles, values and loyalties of the ‘national’ and the ‘international’ writer. Perhaps they also experienced something of the rivalry that can exist between them. Recent work on the history of publishing suggests a further reason why any history of Australian fiction in the first half of the 20th century must now take an international perspective. Throughout this period, having a novel published almost always meant being published first in London and New York. Almost all the major Australian novelists of the first half of the 20th century – from Henry Handel Richardson through Katharine Susannah Prichard and Christina Stead to Patrick White – were published initially in London and New York, and then distributed in Australia. The responses of overseas reviewers were eagerly awaited at home and had a powerful effect on a writer’s domestic sales and reputation. It was only later – often decades later – that some titles were picked up and reprinted in Australian editions by Australian publishers. But the history of publishing and what has been called the ‘new empiricism’ in Australian studies have not always informed previous literary histories, which too often discuss Australian fiction 3 Nettie Palmer, ‘What Oft Was Thought’, ibid., 5 May 1928. 4 Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters [1999], Harvard UP, 2004, p. 108; see also Christopher Prendergast (ed.), Debating World Literature, Verso, 2004.


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without recognising its initial place of publication and reception – its material location in world literary space.5 This was also a time when a number of Australian writers – like Stead, Richardson and White – had, in Casanova’s phrase, escaped from the literary province, reshaping their writing and professional personas according to international trends: Richardson’s appropriation via Danish and German literature of an originally French literary naturalism, and Stead’s and White’s absorption of literary modernism in Paris, London and New York in the 1930s.

Australian writers and ‘the Paternoster Row Machine’ Recent research on publishing in the period 1890 to 1950 makes London and New York central to any consideration of the careers of Australian novelists. As Richard Nile and David Walker argue, London was the ‘production centre for Australian literature’, the place where careers in writing were initiated and sustained; where reputations were made or broken.6 London was not only ‘a powerful and richly mythologised literary centre’, it was the commercial heart of the English-speaking literary world. Henry Lawson resented the power of what he called ‘the mighty Paternoster Row Machine’ – the square mile of central London encompassing Covent Garden, the Strand and St Paul’s, where most of the great publishing houses were located: Constable, Dent, Heinemann, Hodder & Stoughton, Hutchinson, Lane, Longman, Macmillan, Methuen, Unwin, and Ward, Lock. All were significant publishers of Australian literature. These London-based companies were at the centre of an international book trade, colluding with Australian booksellers to retain their dominance over the Australian market. As in other English-language settler societies, bookselling in Australia was controlled by a production and trading cartel, the Publishers’ Association of Great Britain. Under the Net Book Agreement, signed on 1 January 1900, the cartel adopted fixed retail prices throughout the industry and could withhold stock from non-compliant booksellers.7 As a result, the British book industry became more efficient, as bookshops became better stocked and booksellers worked to a guaranteed margin, but in the dominions the dominance of the British cartel encouraged the local book trade to operate as importers and retailers, rather than as publishers committed to fostering new national literatures. Even the largest of the Australian houses, Angus & Robertson, consistently placed its bookselling operations ahead of its publishing activities. The landscape of the international book trade was also shaped by the Berne International Book Copyright Agreement of 1886. This organised the world’s book trade 5 See Robert Dixon, ‘Australian Literature and the New Empiricism’, Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature: The Colonial Present (2008), pp. 158–62. 6 Richard Nile and David Walker, ‘ “The Paternoster Row Machine” and the Australian Book Trade, 1890–1945’ in John Arnold and Martyn Lyons (eds), A History of the Book in Australia, 1891–1945: A National Culture in a Colonised Market, UQP, 2001, pp. 3, 7; see also Richard Nile, The Making of the Australian Literary Imagination, UQP, 2002. 7 Nile and Walter, ‘ “The Paternoster Row Machine” ’, p. 9.


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into trading blocs, which remained relatively separate until they were broken by the rise of multinational corporations in the late 20th century. Manufacturers and traders in the United States had their own huge domestic market but were kept out of Canada; British companies commanded English-language rights throughout much of Europe, and in all Britain’s colonies and dominions. Nile and Walker describe Australia as the jewel in this book-trading empire. With its high standard of living and high literacy levels, it became the largest off-shore market for British books, consuming a quarter of all exported titles: ‘by the 1920s, 3.5 million books were sold annually . . . at a profit to British publishers of over a million pounds’.8 Thus for Australian writers, who complained of the absence of a local publishing industry, it was not only more financially rewarding but often only possible to publish overseas. The Publishers’ Association black-banned authors who managed to secure a publication deal in their own country. Australian writing published in Britain received the ‘colonial’ royalty rate, half the usual rate, so Australian authors could expect only three or four pence, equivalent to a 5 per cent royalty, on a book retailing at six shillings. This situation was accepted as the norm until the 1950s, when Dymphna Cusack, who played a leading role in establishing the Fellowship of Australian Writers, challenged her British publishers. In 1953 she rejected Heinemann’s offer for her novel Southern Steel, and negotiated a contract with Constable for the full 10 per cent royalty.9 After the Great War, Australia’s importance to the British publishing industry was enhanced by the loss of its European markets. In Australia, the demand for British books continued unabated until the Great Depression of the 1930s, and then revived again after World War II. While London had its publishers’ district around Paternoster Row, Sydney had is Booksellers’ Row in Castlereagh Street, where the shops were largely stocked with titles that bore a London imprint. The effect of this overwhelming British presence was the discouragement of ‘national’ publishers motivated by a sentiment to produce nationally inspired books for the local market. As Nile and Walker demonstrate, aspiring Australian publishers were simply out-gunned by the scale of the British operation, and if Australians wished to retain their position as one of the largest reading publics among English-speaking peoples supplied by good bookshops, they had to accept their dependent status: ‘Until the Second World War, Australian publishers were intimidated by the ability of the British cartel to land books at cheap prices in a market where the arrival of a single shipload of stock could discourage even the most enthusiastic purveyor of locally published Australian literature.’10 While Australia writers lamented the absence of a local publishing industry, the tastes of Australian book buyers, as David Carter shows, were largely international and middlebrow, and novels favourably reviewed in London or New York were more likely 8 Ibid., p. 10. 9 See Debra Adelaide, ‘How Did Authors Make a Living?’, in Nile and Walker, History of the Book, p. 86. 10 Nile and Walker, ‘ “The Paternoster Row Machine” ’, p. 12.


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to attract Australian readers than the local product.11 Cultural-nationalist writers like Nettie Palmer found this difficult to accept: Alone among the adult and literate nations, we have no serious belief in the importance of giving full expression to our developing mental life. We have a lack of publishing houses, of quarterlies, of reviews. . . . We are content to be consumers, returning nothing to the world from which we import so freely. . . . What then will temper the world’s verdict on us as a mere desert fed on tinned literature from overseas? Nothing but the habit of publishing books here.12

The cultural and economic power of London and New York – where Australian authors were published simultaneously under agreements between British and American publishers – was inescapable, leading the editors of A History of the Book in Australia to describe Australia in the first half of the 20th century as ‘a national culture in a colonised market’. For Australian writers, Nile and Walker conclude, ‘the complex art of owning and disowning London, of courting its influence and resenting its power, was central to the psychology of authorship’.13

Pursuing literature in Australia: from the first Commonwealth decade to the Great War In 1901, Australia became a nation and the first federal parliament sat in Melbourne’s Exhibition Buildings. Looking back on that great national occasion, Nettie Palmer made a connection between the rise of distinctive national cultures and the rise of national literatures: ‘Perhaps the chief possession of Australian writers in the year 1901 was this consciousness of nationhood. . . . What [Australia] was to mean . . . lay in the hands of her writers, above all, to discover.’14 It is difficult now to recover Palmer’s belief in the centrality of literature to the national culture: in the era of global mass media and the internet even Australian cinema, which played that role in the 1970s and 80s, no longer seems as important as it did. Were Palmer’s hopes for a national literature well founded? What was the state of Australian writing in 1901? What institutional support was there for local writers? In that year, two of Australia’s most famous authors published major works: Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career and Henry Lawson’s Joe Wilson and His Mates. But they were not published in Australia. The publishing history of these now canonical works is indicative of the thinness of the local publishing industry in the decade after Federation and its connections to a wider, international context. 11 David Carter, ‘The Mystery of the Missing Middlebrow, or, The C(o)urse of Good Taste’, in Judith Ryan and Chris Wallace-Crabbe (eds), Imagining Australia: Literature and Culture in the New New World, Harvard UP, 2004. 12 Nettie Palmer, ‘Will Dyson: Creative Militant’, Brisbane Courier, 4 January 1930. 13 Nile and Walker, History of the Book, p. 17. 14 Nettie Palmer, Modern Australian Literature: 1900–1923, Lothian, 1924, p. 5.


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Lawson’s first books were published locally after individual stories and poems had appeared in the Sydney Bulletin and other periodicals. Short Stories in Prose and Verse was published by his mother, Louisa Lawson, through her Dawn press in 1894; it helped Lawson establish his reputation, A. G. Stephens hailing him as ‘the voice of the bush’.15 In the Days When the World was Wide and While the Billy Boils were published by Angus & Robertson in 1896. In 1897, While the Billy Boils was taken up by Simpkin, Marshall and Co., a second-tier English publisher, and after enthusiastic British reviews Lawson decided that he must go to London to advance his career. In the essay ‘Pursuing Literature in Australia’, he complained of the lack of local support for ‘purely Australian writers’ and the impossibility of earning a living by the pen in a small and provincial society.16 Colin Roderick suggests that Lawson’s earnings from writing at this time were in fact reasonable.17 But he had come to see London as the Mecca of modern world literature, and believed that real success, even for a ‘purely Australian writer’, could only be found there: My advice to any young Australian writer whose talents have been recognized, would be to go steerage, stow away, swim, and seek London, Yankeeland, or Timbuctoo – rather than stay in Australia till his genius turned to gall, or beer. Or, failing this – and still in the interests of human nature and literature – to study elementary anatomy, especially as applies to the cranium, and then shoot himself carefully with the aid of a looking-glass.18

No matter how great their talent, an Australian writer was nothing until ‘recognized’ abroad. On 19 January 1900, Lawson wrote a begging letter to the governor of New South Wales, Earl Beauchamp, requesting a fare to London – Roderick describes it as ‘a masterpiece of mendicancy’ – and on 20 April, with vice-regal support, Lawson and his wife Bertha embarked on the Damascus. At a meeting of the Dawn and Dusk Club the previous night, some 40 artists, musicians and writers had assembled to bid him farewell. In his toast, Stephens acknowledged Lawson to be ‘the man who has best represented Australia in literature’ but conceded ‘there may be a bigger chance in London’.19 London, then, was not necessarily hostile to the incipient national literature but might be the place for its ultimate ‘crowning’. Soon after his arrival, Lawson was introduced to the literary agent J. B. Pinker, who represented other e´ migr´e writers in London, including Henry James and Joseph Conrad. Pinker submitted Lawson’s work to leading publishers, including Blackwood and Methuen. The debates and symposiums leading up to Federation had created a strong British interest in Australia, so that the very Australianness that made Lawson a phenomenon at home also made him appealing to 15 17 18 19

A.G. Stephens, Bulletin, 5 January 1895. 16 Bulletin, 21 January 1899. Colin Roderick, Henry Lawson: A Life, A&R, 1991, pp. 201–2. Quoted in Brian Kiernan (ed.), Portable Australian Authors: Henry Lawson, UQP, 1976, p. 210. Quoted in Roderick, Henry Lawson, p. 216.


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British readers as the authentic voice of a new nation. In 1901, Blackwood issued a selection of his earlier work as The Country I Come From, and new material, most of it written in London, appeared in Joe Wilson and His Mates (Blackwood, 1901) and Children of the Bush (Methuen, 1902). Joe Wilson and His Mates contains some of Lawson’s finest work.20 It includes the four linked stories in the Joe Wilson series – ‘Joe Wilson’s Courtship’, ‘Brighten’s Sister-in-Law’, ‘Water Them Geraniums’ and ‘A Double Buggy at Lahey’s Creek’ – and 10 other stories, including ‘The Loaded Dog’ and ‘Telling Mrs Baker’. William Blackwood wrote, ‘It may be claimed for Lawson that he . . . is one of the very few genuinely democratic writers that the literature of “Greater Britain” can show.’21 John Barnes wrote in 1985, ‘There is an obvious awareness of a foreign audience in Joe Wilson’s explanations [such as his account of what it means to be ‘on’ Gulgong] . . . that some Australian readers find irritating.’ Yet as David Carter argues – and as Blackwood recognised at the time – the literary nationalism of the Bulletin and its writers was ‘a statement of its modernity, a way of placing Australia in the contemporary world’.22 The new Australian writing was associated internationally with the social and moral development of the new nation, and Lawson was hailed in London as its epitome. When he returned to Australia in 1902, he wrote in ‘Succeeding: A Sequel to Pursuing Literature’, ‘My advice still is: Go to London – don’t bother about . . . Timbuctoo.’23 My Brilliant Career provides a less sanguine perspective on the Australian writer’s relation to international literary space. Franklin finished the first draft on 25 March 1899, and Elizabeth Webby begins her account of its subsequent publication with the question, ‘What, at the end of the nineteenth century, did a nineteen-year-old living in the Australian bush do with a completed manuscript?’24 Aware that Lawson had published with Angus & Robertson, Franklin sent her manuscript to the Sydney bookseller with a note: ‘Herewith a yarn which I have written entitled “My Brilliant (?) Career”. I would take it very kindly if you would read it and state whether or not it is fit for publication.’ Robertson declined, and Franklin sent the manuscript to J. F. Archibald, the editor of the Bulletin. One of his staff replied, ‘Not having time to read your ms through, I cannot pronounce upon the merits or otherwise of the plot and general handling’, and recommended that she send it on to Stephens’ literary agency. In the meantime, Lawson himself had offered to read it and agreed to approach Robertson again on her behalf. On the eve of his departure in April 1900, and with no word from Robertson, Lawson took the manuscript with him to London, where Pinker successfully

20 See Kerryn Goldsworthy, ‘Fiction from 1900 to 1970’, in Elizabeth Webby (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature, CUP, 2000, p. 106. 21 Quoted in Roderick, Henry Lawson, p. 236. 22 John Barnes, Henry Lawson’s Short Stories, Shillington House, 1985, p. 33; David Carter, ‘Critics, Writers, Intellectuals: Australian Literature and Its Criticism’, in Webby (ed.), Cambridge Companion, p. 262. 23 Bulletin, August 1902. 24 Elizabeth Webby, ‘Introduction’, Miles Franklin: My Brilliant Career and My Career Goes Bung, Harper Perennial, 2004, p. v.


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placed it with Blackwood, though a number of conditions were imposed, including the alteration of many idiomatic words and expressions. When Franklin received copies of the Blackwood edition in September 1901, she wrote angrily pointing out, ‘it would have been wise and fair to have allowed me to see the proofs of the story that I could have corrected the many irritating mistakes and substitutions in the matter of slang and idiom’.25 Drusilla Modjeska describes My Brilliant Career as ‘a feminist intervention into the nationalist tradition in the literature of the 1890s’. On the one hand, it points to the harshness of life for women in the bush, the drudgery, the anti-intellectualism, the stifling of their creativity. On the other, it upholds the traditions of nationalism through its depictions of bush landscape and characters. As Modjeska argues, its feminism is also to be found in its playful use of conventions associated with 19th-century women writers. While adopting the pattern of feminine romance, it refuses its traditional resolution: ‘Sybylla meets Harry and the two are put through the trials and tribulations that young lovers have to overcome in every romantic novel; yet Sybylla refuses him not once, but twice.’26 Disappointed with both the production and reception of My Brilliant Career, which many readers took to be autobiographical, Franklin withdrew it from publication and it was not reprinted until after her death in 1954. She approached Pinker, Blackwood and Angus & Robertson with other manuscripts, including ‘The End of My Career’, but without success. Recently returned from London and buoyed by his own success, Lawson warned, ‘It would be a big come down from a leading British publisher to an Australian one.’ In 1905, Franklin left Australia for the United States, where she was to live for many years, taking with her a number of unpublished manuscripts. ‘The End of My Career’, a sequel to My Brilliant Career which further interrogates romance conventions from a provincial perspective, was eventually published as My Career Goes Bung (1946). Joseph Furphy, whose own nationalist novel, Such is Life, was published locally by the Bulletin in 1903, was among those who urged Franklin not to leave for America. An idiomatic account of bush life in the Riverina district, Such is Life is nonetheless ‘a novel based on a theory of the novel’, as A. D. Hope observed.27 Its mannered style and complex literary allusions reflect this provincial writer’s profound absorption in the classics of British literature, including Shakespeare, Sterne, Dickens and the King James Bible. Furphy and Franklin met briefly in Melbourne in 1904, and over the next few years he wrote encouraging her to remain in Australia and use her talent in developing an Australian tradition of democratic literature: ‘stay among the eucalypts, Miles,’ he urged, ‘and earn the adoration of your countrymen by translating the hosannas and elegies of the bush into vernacular phrase’.28 25 26 27 28

Quotations in ibid., pp. v–ix. Drusilla Modjeska, Exiles at Home: Australian Women Writers 1925–1945, A&R, 1981, pp. 34, 35. A. D. Hope, Native Companions: Essays and Comments on Australian Literature 1936–1966, A&R, 1974, p. 55. Quoted in Modjeska, Exiles at Home, p. 39.


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Franklin would later claim Furphy as ‘a founding father of the Australian novel’, and ironically, given her many years abroad in the United States and England, she used him as a benchmark in her dismissive accounts of expatriate writers, including Henry Handel Richardson.29 Born in Melbourne in 1870, Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson was educated at the Presbyterian Ladies’ College but left Australia in 1888 to study music at the Leipzig Conservatorium. She there met her future husband, John George Robertson, then a PhD student and later a professor of German literature. Robertson and Richardson lived in Munich and Strasbourg before settling in London in 1903. In his biography of Richardson, Michael Ackland describes how, with Robertson’s encouragement, her wide reading turned her from a provincial music student into a formidable European literary intellectual. Her diary indicates that in the late 1890s she was reading a hundred or more books a year, drawn largely from European literature and philosophy. The influential Danish critic Georg Brandes’ Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature was an important guide, as was Robertson’s own History of German Literature. In 1897, she read systematically through the works of Stendhal and Flaubert, then, in 1898, Flaubert again, together with Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Balzac, Zola, Turgenev and Tolstoy. Already fluent in Danish and German, she also studied French and Italian, and read d’Annunzio’s Il Fuoco in Italian when it was published in 1900. ‘So thorough was her immersion in the intellectual heritage and languages of Europe’, Ackland notes that ‘by 1901 . . . her native tongue was in danger of eroding’.30 These and other European influences are manifest in Richardson’s first novel, Maurice Guest (1908). In his essay ‘The Art of Henry Handel Richardson’ (1948), Robertson describes it a ‘mosaic of influences’, locating its ‘literary provenance’ in continental Europe, specifically in German and Scandinavian literature, and as ‘the last link in the chain [of naturalism] which practically began with Madame Bovary in 1856’. He identifies its thematic antecedents in the German Kunstlerroman, such as Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, but suggests that its objectivity and authorial distance are drawn from Flaubert and Stendhal. In their scholarly edition of Maurice Guest in its original state – prior to the heavy revision required by its London publisher – Clive Probyn and Bruce Steele also point to the influence of Jens Peter Jacobsen’s Niels Lyhne, which Richardson translated from Danish as Siren Voices (1896). She wrote of the ‘new world’ which this book opened to her: ‘a romanticism imbued with the scientific spirit and essentially based on realism’.31 While her first two novels, Maurice Guest and The Getting of Wisdom (1910) drew on her own life as a student in Leipzig and Melbourne, her great trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, drew on the letters of her parents Walter and Mary Richardson 29 Franklin, Laughter Not for a Cage, p. 127. 30 Michael Ackland, Henry Handel Richardson: A Life, CUP, 2004, pp. 152–3. 31 Quotations in Clive Probyn and Bruce Steele (eds), ‘Introduction’, Maurice Guest, The Academy Editions of Australian Literature, UQP, 1998, p. lii.


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from 1854 to 1877, and on published sources relating to the early history of Victoria.32 Begun in London in 1910, it appeared initially as three separate volumes: Australia Felix (1917), The Way Home (1925) and Ultima Thule (1929). Probyn and Steele suggest that in ‘its combination of naturalism, history and allegory’, the trilogy may be read as ‘a narrative of settler colonialism’ and a searching critique of its materialist values.33 The restlessness of the Irish-born, Edinburgh-educated doctor, Richard Mahony, as he moves twice between Britain and Victoria, and the link between his own ‘fortunes’ and Victoria’s boom and bust economy from the 1850s to the 1890s, offer a fictional account of colonial history. Richardson’s intention had been ‘to treat the chief features of colonial life in epic fashion’, beginning with the Eureka Stockade in 1854 and, in an early though partly unrealised plan, culminating in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915.34 Richardson’s novels were first published in London by William Heinemann, who issued colonial editions and arranged for simultaneous publication in New York. Maurice Guest did not have an Australian edition until 1965. The Getting of Wisdom appeared in Oxford University Press’s Australian Pocket Library series in 1946. The complete Mahony trilogy was first published by Heinemann in London in 1930 and by Norton in New York in 1931. The first Australian edition was published by Heinemann in Melbourne in 1946, and Penguin Australia published a paperback edition, based on the 1930 edition, in 1971. Richardson’s last novel, The Young Cosima, first published in London and New York in 1939, had no Australian edition until 1976. Not only the publishing history of Richardson’s novels but also their reception suggest that her reputation was made abroad and then imported back into Australia. Richard Mahony is often regarded as ‘the great Australian novel’ yet, as Probyn and Steele observe, ‘Richardson herself had little patience with or interest in such an accolade, and . . . saw her trilogy as a contribution to . . . a distinctly European genre of novel writing.’35 Heinemann’s 1930 omnibus edition was a response to the commercial success of Ultima Thule in the United States, where it was named Book of the Month in the September 1928 edition of the New York Book Club Journal. The major reviews establishing its reputation were Gerald Gould’s in the London Observer (13 January 1929), Arnold Palmer’s in the Sphere (19 January), and Hugh Walpole’s in the New York Herald Tribune (28 April). All placed it within the English and European traditions of the novel: Palmer wrote, ‘I see Henry Handel Richardson as another Balzac.’36 It was this international acclaim that allowed cultural-nationalist critics in Australia to reclaim and promote Richardson as national literary property. Nettie Palmer championed her as an Australian novelist who had won international acclaim, believing this would boost the cause of Australian literature. In 1929 she assured readers of the Brisbane Courier 32 See Elizabeth Webby and Gillian Sykes (eds), Walter and Mary: The Letters of Walter and Mary Richardson, Miegunyah Press, 2000. 33 Clive Probyn and Bruce Steele (eds), ‘Introduction’, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, Part I: Australia Felix, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2007, pp. viii–ix. 34 Quoted in ibid., p. ix. 35 Ibid., p. x. 36 Quoted in ‘Introduction’, ibid., Part III: Ultima Thule, p. xiii.


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that the novel had already ‘captured English critics in spite of its subject’, and in 1941 proposed that ‘its universal acceptance as a masterpiece has definitely raised the hopes of our literature, both among writers and readers’.37 Like other Australian writers of the first Commonwealth decades, Katharine Prichard’s career followed the pattern of early publication in local magazines, British and American publication of her major works of fiction during her lifetime, followed by belated, limited publication in Australia. In 1908, Prichard made her first visit to London and Paris as a journalist for the Melbourne Herald. After two years she tried freelance writing and journalism in the United States, then returned to London from 1912 to 1915, where she was involved in feminist and Fabian socialist circles. She wrote The Pioneers in her Chelsea flat as an entry for the 1915 Hodder & Stoughton All-Empire Novel Competition, winning the prize for the best Australian novel: it was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1915 and in New York by G. H. Doran in 1916. Drawing on her experience as a governess in Gippsland after leaving school in Melbourne, The Pioneers won wide critical acclaim in Britain, the United States and Australia. Ric Throssell notes, ‘It secured her reputation abroad and made it possible for her to return to Australia.’38 Prichard later recalled, ‘As I emerged from Paternoster Row, and came out on to Ludgate Hill . . . it was as if all London lay before me.’39 Prichard returned to Australia in February 1916 after five years abroad. After travelling in country Victoria and New South Wales, she settled initially at Emerald in the foothills of the Dandenongs near her schoolfriends Nettie Palmer and Hilda Esson. On the back of her success with The Pioneers, Windlestraws (1916) was published in London by Hodder & Stoughton. A romance with a British setting, it was written for a British audience. At Emerald, she also wrote Black Opal, drawing on a recent visit to the opal mining town of Lightning Ridge, which was published in London by Heinemann after the war in 1921. Prichard’s next novel, Working Bullocks, was hailed as a major achievement in Australian literature. Written after her marriage to Hugo Throssell and their move to Greenmount in the Perth Hills, it drew on her observations of timber-getting communities in the karri forests south west of Perth, and was published by Johnathan Cape in London in 1926 and in New York the following year by Viking. Vance and Nettie Palmer recognised its lyrical celebrations of labour and the bush as a fulfilment of their own hoped-for national literature. Nettie was thrilled by its ‘creative lyricism’ and the way it invoked an authentic way of life that was distinctively Australian: ‘From slang, from place-names, from colloquial turns of speech, from descriptions of landscape and people at work’, she argued, ‘ . . . it is a break through that will be as important for other writers as for KSP herself.’40 37 Reviews quoted in Australia Felix, p. x. 38 Ric Throssell, Wild Weeds and Wind Flowers: The Life and Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard [1975], A&R, 1990, p. 27; see also Nile, Making of the Australian Literary Imagination, ch. 1. 39 Quoted in Throssell, Wild Weeds and Wind Flowers, p. 26. 40 Quoted in ibid., p. 46.


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The Roaring Twenties Looking back on the first two Commonwealth decades in Laughter Not for a Cage, Miles Franklin gave an account of literary history that was definitive of cultural nationalism. There had been a great flowering of Australian fiction in the 1890s, culminating in the works of Lawson, Furphy and Franklin herself, followed by a period of relative quiet and then a dramatic rebirth of the Australian novel in the late 1920s – this was the ‘break through’ heralded by Prichard’s Working Bullocks in 1926 and confirmed by Coonardoo in 1929. Franklin attributes the hiatus of the 1910s and early 1920s to the rise of a cosmopolitan and expatriate sensibility, represented by Richardson, above the determined provincialism she admired in Furphy. This anticipates Casanova’s model of the competitive relations between national and international writers within national literatures. Franklin laments: Following Anzac [in 1915], the promise of the nineties seemed to have been dead or silent . . . The universality approved was a kind of cosmopolitanism that might be rooted anywhere, for it was considered crude and limiting to be rooted in Australia. . . . Those with a different point of view persisted in provincialism.41

She dates the ‘Reappearance of the Australian Novel in Force’ to 1928. Franklin was right to detect a hiatus in the novel, though there were other reasons than cosmopolitanism, not least the popularity of sentimental nationalist poetry. In 1916, for example, the first edition of C. J. Dennis’ The Moods of Ginger Mick ran to almost 40 000 copies, and by the time of its publication in London in December 1917, 63 000 copies had been printed.42 Using Grahame Johnston’s Annals of Australian Literature as a guide, Modjeska points out that in the decade between 1917 and 1927, there were 27 novels published and 87 volumes of poetry, but in the years from 1928 to 1930, there were 106 novels and only 57 volumes of verse.43 There was also a generational change: Catherine Helen Spence died in 1910, Furphy in 1912, Rolf Boldrewood in 1915, Lawson in 1922. And at the beginning of the century a new generation of novelists was born who came to prominence in the late 1920s and 1930s: Eleanor Dark, Xavier Herbert and Henrietta Drake-Brockman were born in 1901; Dymphna Cusack, Alan Marshall and Stead in 1902. Not only were the early 1920s dominated by poetry, but literary groups were dominated by men. As Peter Kirkpatrick demonstrates, the period’s major literary group clustered around Norman Lindsay and the magazine Vision, whose aesthetic was oriented toward Europe and defined itself in opposition to literary nationalism. It spurned the bush, seeing the artist – and especially the poet and the painter – as an artist-aristocrat dedicated to the pursuit of transcendental Beauty and ideal values of 41 Franklin, Laughter Not for a Cage, p. 145. 42 Philip Butterss, ‘Introduction’ to C. J. Dennis, The Moods of Ginger Mick, Australian Classics Library, SUP, 2008. 43 Modjeska, Exiles at Home, p. 5.


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Mind.44 In his memoir, The Roaring Twenties (1960), Jack Lindsay could see that there had been a fundamental conflict between the idea of a national literature and a literature more open to what he called ‘the world heritage’, a ‘break between our conception of high art and that of national expression’. ‘We were unaware at the time’, he recalled, ‘how the novel was breaking into a new dimension through H. H. Richardson, K. S. Prichard and Vance Palmer.’ Lindsay acknowledged that in leaving for London when he did, he turned his back on the problem of ‘overcoming the conflict between a national literature and a literature fully absorbing the world heritage’.45

Advocates of the national literature: the 1920s and 1930s It was against this background that Vance and Nettie Palmer, Miles Franklin, P. R. Stephensen and others came forward as advocates for a national literature, placing their hopes in the appearance of the great Australian novel.46 In their arguments they consistently opposed this emergent national literature to ‘bohemian’, ‘expatriate-minded’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ writers – the terms were interchangeable and uniformly pejorative – who worked and lived abroad, and absorbed international trends, especially literary modernism, which was resisted by the generation whose tastes were formed before the Great War. Nettie Palmer was the most important critic of the period.47 She was committed to bringing into being through her literary journalism a vibrant national literature, albeit within a framework informed by her own profound knowledge of world literature. Believing that a literary tradition is made rather than given, her idea of a national literature was in part material and institutional, in part idealistic and organic. It could not come into being without a viable local publishing industry; without systematic reviewing and the writing of biographies and critical studies that would create a public sphere for Australian literature; but it must also be a living network of writers, readers, critics and ‘enthusiasts’. As Modjeska demonstrates, Palmer through her extensive personal correspondence helped to create a new kind of literary institution that was an alternative to the bohemian clubs of the 1920s: ‘it was a peculiarly female literary group with the writers separated not only by distance, but by domestic ties’.48 Palmer wrote a remarkable body of reviews and essays that are now little known because they were published in newspapers and periodicals – there were rarely more 44 Peter Kirkpatrick, The Sea Coast of Bohemia [1987], API, 2007. 45 Jack Lindsay, The Roaring Twenties, Bodley Head, 1962, pp. 226–7. 46 See Patrick Buckridge, ‘ “Greatness” and Australian Literature in the 1930s and 1940s’, Australian Literary Studies, 17.1 (1995), pp. 29–37. 47 See Deborah Jordan, Nettie Palmer: Search for an Aesthetic, History Department, University of Melbourne, 1999. 48 Modjeska, Exiles at Home, p. 16.


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lasting outlets for publication.49 In ‘Our Own Books. Do We Evoke Them?’, she describes the national literature as both a nascent industry and ‘a living culture’, a community of writers and readers. Her view of the relation between national literatures and international literary space is more complex than Franklin’s. A national literature must not be allowed to become provincial in the negative sense – it must be in vital contact with the standards set by other national literatures – but at the same time its health depends on its internal well-being and integrity. It must attain a sufficient material infrastructure and scale of operations, a sufficient density, to survive on its own terms, and this requires dedication, even a deliberate ‘narrowness’, on the part of its advocates. Hers was a strategic provincialism: Any of us who support the development of Australian literature as a necessary and healthy part of life are said to be narrow. People see us knocking the one nail on the head, and suppose we are not interested in other nails. Personally, I knock that nail because I know, as an Australian, that only an Australian is likely to do it. All my life I have cared passionately for overseas literature, but they are not depending for their existence on what casual Australians may write about them.50

These were the main arguments of Palmer’s pioneering book, Modern Australian Literature, 1900–1923 (1924). Without a systematic critical, historical and bibliographical apparatus, there was no other record of Australian literature than ‘the scattered books themselves’; there was as yet no Australian tradition, for ‘in our literary history . . . promising movements tend to run into the sand’; and ‘the facilities for ordinary publishing hardly exist’, leaving Australian literature vulnerable to imported culture.51 Like the Palmers, their friends Louis and Hilda Esson had travelled widely and were well read in world literature but shared their cultural nationalism. In an essay on ‘Nationality and Art’, Esson recalled how his meeting with the Irish playwright J. M. Synge in London in 1905 had turned him toward literary nationalism. ‘I loved Paris’, he recalled, ‘[and] Australia appeared to be a far-off land. . . . How was it possible to make any literature about people who knew nothing except how to drive cattle and shear sheep?’ But Synge ‘despised anything abstract and cosmopolitan’, and believed that ‘every country had its own material for literature’. He encouraged Esson to tell him all he could about ‘the life of the bush’.52 Paradoxically, then, cultural nationalism in Australia had international roots. In 1911, during his second stay in London, Vance Palmer came under the influence of A. R. Orage, the editor of the New Age. Contrary to the dominant socialist internationalism of the day, Orage wanted English socialists to reconcile their politics with the traditions 49 See Vivian Smith (ed.), Nettie Palmer: Her Private Journal Fourteen Years, Poems, Reviews and Literary Essays, UQP, 1988. 50 Brisbane Courier, 11 August 1928. 51 Palmer, Modern Australian Literature, pp. 55–9. 52 Louis Esson, ‘Nationality in Art’, Bulletin, 1 February 1923.


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of Englishness; to become less cosmopolitan and more concerned with the ‘national character’. This had important implications for literature: a writer would find the national character among the folk rather than among the city’s middle classes. Orage confirmed ideas that Palmer had already begun to develop about Australia. With its short history and lack of a traditional folk culture, Australia was vulnerable to the problems of urbanisation and industrialisation, and the appeal of cheap popular culture from America. But the cause of cultural nationalism meant taking an international perspective on Australian affairs. As Palmer realised, nationalism was not the opposite of internationalism – to be ‘colonial’ or ‘Imperialist’ was.53 A genuine internationalism meant a dialogue among independent nations, each with its own vernacular culture. ‘A society is provincial’, Palmer wrote, only ‘when it looks to some other centre to set its standards.’54 But in speaking of an Australian national culture, Palmer was unable to invoke an achieved tradition like those of England, Ireland and France. An Australian culture lay in the future and it was the writer’s, especially the novelist’s, task to nurture its growth. It is the precariousness of the cultural-nationalist project in Australia – poised between what never was and what did not yet exist – that led David Walker to describe it as moving from dream to disillusion within a decade. In the pre-war years, he observes, ‘those converted to the cause of the emerging national culture . . . were . . . awaiting the transformation of their society’. After the war, the national culture they hoped for had manifestly failed to evolve. ‘Australian society had become more urban, more commercial, more bourgeois’. Palmer’s vision of an original new democracy receded into ‘a haunting dream of what Australian society might have become if it had honoured the spirit of the 1890s’. In the name of the old ‘Lawson–Furphy tradition’, Palmer had resisted literary modernism, but his vision of the national character was anachronistic and at odds with the reality of post-war Australian society.55 These contradictions in the cultural-nationalist project help to explain Vance Palmer’s limited success as a novelist. In the years 1910–17 he wrote potboilers under the pseudonym Rann Daly for both the national and international markets.56 Palmer’s serious novels were published under his own name, but these were less commercially successful, and were often programmatic illustrations of his ideal of a manly, democratic Australian culture originating in the bush. Early novels –The Shantykeeper’s Daughter (1920), The Boss of Killara (1922), Cronulla: A Story of Station Life (1924), The Man Hamilton (1928), Men are Human (1930), Daybreak (1932) – were outback or ‘station’ novels: the first two were published in Sydney by the innovative NSW Bookstall Company, but the last three were published in London by Ward, Lock and Stanley 53 Vance Palmer, ‘The Need for Nationalism’, The Worker, 9 August 1917; see also Carter, ‘Critics, Writers, Intellectuals’, p. 263. 54 Vance Palmer, ‘Povincialism in Literature’, Bulletin, 7 January 1926. 55 David Walker, Dream and Disillusion: A Search for Australian Cultural Identity, ANU Press, 1976, pp. 196, 201. 56 Ibid., pp. 213–17.


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Paul.57 In these novels, Walker observes, ‘manliness, work, space and the bush signify the casually democratic air Palmer favoured, while women, intimacy, the city, the suburb and the drawing-room threatened this world’.58 After moving to Caloundra in south-east Queensland in the 1920s, Palmer found an ideal setting for his central theme of an authentic life governed by the rhythms of nature and manual work, which he believed to be under threat from the increasingly urban, cosmopolitan society of post-war Australia. In The Passage (1930), Lew Callaway is a fisherman who operates his own boat and plans to set up a co-operative. His brother, Hugh, mixes with salesmen, speculators and tourists; he is drawn to fast cars and fast women, and aspires to leave the Passage for a more glamorous, more modern world: he ‘wanted to be in some centre where he could . . . feel . . . that he was part of a city that was linked to other cities all around the world’. Their different outlooks come into conflict over a proposal to build a modern tourist resort at Lavinia, near the Passage, that will change its lifeways for ever. Hugh is excited by the prospect, but Lew sees it as ‘an artificial growth, a place that depended on a flow of life from outside’.59 The Swayne Family (1934) transfers these themes to Melbourne in what is essentially an anti-city novel. Digby Swain has left Jaffra, the country town where he was born, for the suburbs; his son Ernest, an artist seeking a more authentic way of life, is drawn back to Jaffra. The recurring contrasts in Palmer’s fiction are between the authentic and the inauthentic life; the manly and the effeminate; the local and the cosmopolitan; the city and the bush. In a caf´e in Melbourne’s Lonsdale Street, Ernest Swayne criticises people who have ‘lost their guts and become bits of mechanism’: ‘Was there something about the town itself, with its dull, middle-class dignity, its geometric streets, flat suburbs, [and] featureless surroundings, that sucked all the passion out of people?’60 These themes were also carried forward into Palmer’s later mining novels, the Golconda trilogy, all published by Angus & Robertson – Golconda (1948), Seedtime (1957), The Big Fellow (1959) – and summed up in his seminal non-fictional study, The Legend of the Nineties (1954). Although Vance Palmer’s novels were much praised by critics of the succeeding generation, Walker suggests that the ‘pale fiction’ he created in the 1920s was ‘a damaging failure’ for a man who had dedicated his energies to the creation of a national literature. In a telling comparison, he argues that as a critic of the middle classes and an advocate for organic communities, Palmer was a pale shadow of his English contemporary, D. H. Lawrence, whose own Australian novel Kangaroo (1923) arguably had a much greater impact on Australian readers. His commitment to ‘the legend of the 1890s’ was anachronistic in the 1920s and 30s, leaving him unable to respond to the vitality 57 See Carol M. Mills, The New South Wales Bookstall Company as a Publisher, Mulini Press, 1991. 58 Walker, Dream and Disillusion, p. 178. 59 Quoted in ibid., p. 180. 60 Quoted in ibid., p. 186.


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of modern life in the Australian cities and to the achievements of expatriate writers like Richardson and Stead, who embraced to varying degrees cosmopolitanism and modernism.

P. R. Stephensen and The Foundations of Culture in Australia (1936) Another manifesto of literary nationalism was P. R. Stephensen’s The Foundations of Culture in Australia (1936). Stephensen understood that Australian culture was coming into being at the same time as an emerging ‘world-culture’ based on globalising systems of travel, communication and finance. He describes it with the term ‘internationalism’, which he understands as a competitive world-order of individual nations: ‘the very idea of internationalism implies many separate nationalities . . . remaining distinct in local customs, and cultures’. Stephensen distinguishes between the ‘creation’ of national cultures and their ‘appreciation’ abroad: ‘cultures must remain local in creation and universal in appreciation’. Implicitly, then, he distinguishes internationalism – the positive circulation of distinctive national cultures within ‘world-culture’ – from transnationalism, cosmopolitanism and expatriatism, in which the writer is cut off from the sources of his or her national culture. At its best, internationalism involves two-way traffic between distinct national cultures. Stephensen’s purpose is to advocate a national culture that is sufficiently strong to survive the rigours of the international economy, in which strong national cultures ‘bastardise’ weaker ones.61 Like Franklin and the Palmers, Stephensen considers that Australian culture, after a brief flowering in the 1890s, went into a long decline that he calls ‘the Vast Open Spaces of the Australian mind’. In repudiating the new imported, middlebrow culture, Stephensen echoes the English critic F. R. Leavis in Mass Civilization and Minority Culture (1931). His concern with mediocrity, with salesmanship and advertising, and the influence of America was therefore part of an international trend in the 1930s toward reactive cultural nationalisms in the ‘literary provinces’: If, in Australian bookshops far and wide throughout the Commonwealth, nine hundred and ninety-nine books and magazines of a thousand on show are English and American; if, in the cinema-theatres of every Australian city, suburb, town, township and hamlet, practically all the films shown are American and English; if, on the wireless stations cluttering every millimetre of the Australian ether, gramophone records of English and American origin are broadcast and rebroadcast ad nauseam; if, in the columns of the Australian press, a priority is given . . . to news from overseas – in all these disseminations of overseas culture . . . I detect nothing more sinister than a superior salesmanship, a superior 61 P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia: An Essay Towards National Self-Respect, W. J. Miles, 1936, pp. 17–18, 28.


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marketing and distributing technique, on the part of the vendors of the ubiquitous overseas culture-stuff.62

But Stephensen also railed against the local product when it failed to meet his standards. Poet and journalist Mary Gilmore and travel writer Ion L. Idriess, for example, ‘have had no lack of publication and appreciation here’, but they are ‘competent and entertaining’, not ‘profound, nor finally significant, writers’.63 In a scathing section headed ‘Export of Genius’, Stephensen – who had only recently returned from living in London64 – is critical of Australian expatriates who have not faced up to ‘the work of building up a culture here’: Consider . . . the formidable list of Australian novelists . . . in England and Europe . . . Jack Lindsay, Philip Lindsay, Helen Simpson, Henry Handel Richardson, Christina Stead, Mary Mitchell, Christopher Morley, Frederic Manning, Alice Grant Rosman. . . . Had these people remained here, and dealt with the realities of Australia, instead of with the fantasies of European glamour and European antiquity, they would with ease have created a body of Australian literature which . . . would by now have been enough to make Australia’s name and quality resound as one of the most highly cultivated and civilised nations upon the earth. But no; the shirkers, they have cleared out, funked their job.65

The Foundations of Culture in Australia is therefore a call to work, a call to create the journals, publish the books, and generate the readership that will bring into being a national literature strong enough to survive internationally as both an import and an export culture. Like Nettie Palmer, Stephensen realises that it must be brought actively into being by its advocates: ‘Slowly . . . the Australian public will come to realise that it wants Australian books.’66

Between the wars: ‘Reappearance of the Australian novel in force’ By the end of the 1920s, it was apparent that big changes were taking place in Australian literature. The main concern of writers had been the lack of support for Australian fiction from a viable local publishing industry, and many of the literary institutions that were now set up were intended to offer support for writers, striving to build an institutional density that would allow the national literary culture to flourish in a world literary space dominated by London and New York. The year 1928 was a crucial one. The first annual literary award, the Australian Literature Society’s Gold Medal, was established, while the Sydney Bulletin announced a prize for the best novel in each of the three succeeding years. The first competition, 62 Ibid., p. 105. 63 Ibid., pp. 106–8. 64 See Craig Munro, Inky Stephensen: Wild Man of Letters, UQP, 1992. 65 Stephensen, Foundations of Culture, pp. 121–3. 66 Ibid., p. 110.


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which closed in June 1928, attracted 542 entries. First place was shared by Prichard’s Coonardoo and M. Barnard Eldershaw’s A House is Built. Vance Palmer’s The Passage won in 1929. The year 1928 also saw the inaugural meeting of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in Sydney. John le Gay Brereton was elected its first president and branches were soon established in the other states. Its mission was to promote the interests of writers through its meetings, lectures and publications, but it also acted as a lobbyist, as in its proposals during the 1930s to widen the charter of the Commonwealth Literary Fund. Its members included the Palmers, Flora Eldershaw, Dymphna Cusack, Miles Franklin and Katharine Prichard. Prichard’s prize-winning novel Coonardoo was the product of a visit to Turee Station in the far north-west of Western Australia, where she witnessed at first hand the conditions of pastoral settlement. It was serialised in the Bulletin from 5 September 1928, then published by Jonathan Cape in London in 1929 and Norton in New York in 1930. Although Prichard was later to deny it, the influence of D. H. Lawrence was evident in the novel’s modernist style, in its critique of middle-class respectability, and its primitivist treatment of Aboriginal culture. Its lyrical descriptions of bush life and powerful recognition of inter-racial sexual relations caused controversy in Australia. Mary Gilmore wrote to Nettie Palmer, ‘It is not merely a journalistic description of station life, it is vulgar and dirty.’ As a consequence, the Bulletin declined publication of Palmer’s Men Are Human, which deals with similar material; the editor, S. H. Prior, informed him, ‘our disastrous experience with Coonardoo shows us that the Australian public will not stand stories based on a white man’s relations with an Australian aborigine’. Prichard insisted on its realism, telling Douglas Stewart, ‘I’d rather Coonardoo was thrown on the scrap heap and forgotten than be regarded merely as background and poetic symbolism.’67 Reflecting on the changing reception of Coonardoo from 1928 to 1988, Jennifer Strauss argues that ‘While there may be some justice in later feminist and postcolonial criticism which finds Prichard guilty of a double essentialism in her representation of Coonardoo as a passionate woman and a primitive Aborigine, the work should not be denied radical status within its own time.’68 Coonardoo was followed by Haxby’s Circus, which was runner-up in the Jonathan Cape Prize Novel Competition, and published by Cape in 1930 and Norton in New York in 1931 under Prichard’s original title, Fay’s Circus. It was informed by her research into Wirth’s Circus. The pioneering American Australianist C. Hartley Grattan commented on ‘the very range of life she has encompassed in her novels’, calling her ‘the hope of the Australian novel’.69 Her study of the circus and its performers reflected Prichard’s Marxist-informed understanding of the effect of specific forms of social organisation on character, and she was increasingly drawn at this time to the principles of social realism. In the 1930s, communism was to become one of the main intellectual formations 67 Quotations in Throssell, Wild Weeds and Wind Flowers, pp. 55–6. 68 Jennifer Strauss, in Bruce Bennett and Strauss (eds), The Oxford Literary History of Australia, OUP, 1998, p. 124. 69 Quoted in Throssell, Wild Weeds and Wind Flowers, p. 60.


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through which Australian literature, at the height of cultural nationalism, would again be connected to international literary space: it was the International Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture that brought Stead and Nettie Palmer together in Paris in June 1935. In the early 1930s Prichard travelled to Russia, and despite her established reputation this was the first opportunity to visit her publisher in London. Following her husband’s suicide and her urgent return from Russia, she threw herself into political work for the Communist Party, the Movement Against War and Fascism, and the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. Nettie Palmer worried that this was affecting her writing, and therefore her inspirational role in the emerging national literary culture. She wrote to Alan Marshall seeking his support for a lessening of Prichard’s Party commitments, explaining, ‘she’s very important to all of us, and her international reputation in England, America, [and] Russia – makes it more possible for Australian literature to gain consideration’.70 The tensions between art, politics and middle-class values are reflected in Intimate Strangers, published by Cape in London in 1937. A sign of the improving support for writing, in 1941 Prichard was awarded a one-year fellowship from the Commonwealth Literary Fund to write a trilogy based on the history of the Western Australian goldfields. In his reference in support of the application, Walter Murdoch noted that ‘she is certainly the only contemporary Australian novelist who has won high reputation both in Britain and in the United States’.71 Each of the three volumes – The Roaring Nineties (1946), Golden Miles (1948), Winged Seeds (1950) – was published by Cape in London and the Australasian Publishing Co. in Sydney. Prichard explained in the introduction to The Roaring Nineties, ‘I have tried to tell not only something of the lives of several people, but also the story of an industry.’ The central thread concerns three generations in the family of Sally Gough, from the earliest gold discoveries set against the background of the great world-historical events of the period: the Great War, the Russian Revolution, the Depression, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II. The lives of individual characters are filled out with yarns of goldfields characters, mining statistics, quotes from official reports and other historical documents, motivated by an underlying socialist realism. In an important essay for the London Tribune, Jack Lindsay explained that it ‘vindicates her position as the most important Australian novelist, the main exponent of the school of critical realism’. In a lecture on Australian literature in October 1943, Prichard had used the language of theoretical Marxism to explain the writer’s role in society: ‘those who are Marxist . . . see more clearly the need to direct the attention of the people to the most vital phases of the class struggle’. But when Golden Miles was published she acknowledged, ‘I’m afraid its straight left won’t please some people.’ Prichard correctly anticipated the hostile reception of the trilogy outside the communist press. The Bulletin dismissed Golden Miles as ‘outright propaganda’. Winged Seeds, published during the Cold War, attracted 70 Quoted in ibid., p. 77.


71 Quoted in ibid., p. 106.

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even stronger criticism. The London Times pronounced, ‘Australia appears to be more addicted than England to a parrot-like Communism’; the Sydney Bulletin described it as ‘dutifully promoting Communist jargon twisted into situations to justify political theories’.72 Eleanor Dark’s career was also shaped by overseas publishers and the domestic force of her overseas reputation, even though she lived entirely in Australia. The daughter of writer Dowell O’Reilly, she was born in the Federation year of 1901. In 1922 she married Eric Dark, a doctor, and the couple settled at ‘Varuna’ in Cascade Street, Katoomba, which became another node in the growing network of writers, readers and literary intellectuals that one contributor to the Bulletin described as ‘Reading Australia’.73 Sustained mainly by correspondence and occasional visits, this network included the Palmers in Melbourne, Prichard in the west, and Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw in Sydney. There were also other writers in the Blue Mountains, including Eric and Barbara Lowe, Osmar White and Zora Cross, who introduced Jean Devanny to the group after she arrived from New Zealand in 1929.74 Although there was still virtually no local publishing industry in the 1920s when Dark seriously began to write novels, it was relatively easy to publish short fiction in the local press. Like Rann Daly, Dark was writing potboilers, and the techniques of romance, detective fiction and other popular genres became a permanent feature of her style, even after she began to absorb modernist techniques. Her character Lesley Channon in Waterway (1938) ‘scattered through the weekly and monthly journals stories . . . at whose fatuity she scowled or giggled according to her mood’.75 When she finished the manuscript of Slow Dawning in January 1926, Dark asked whether Angus & Robertson would read it. They replied, ‘On the whole we would advise you to send your story to England.’ Her stepmother, Molly O’Reilly, took it with her to London, where she placed it with the literary agent John Farquharson, and it was published there by John Long in 1932. While engaging with contemporary feminist issues, it does so within the conventions of international magazine fiction. The main character, Valerie Spencer, is a young doctor who negotiates the demands of her profession with the attentions of different men, including a philandering colleague and her childhood sweetheart. Years later, Dark confessed to Devanny that she had written it ‘dishonestly, deliberately . . . with the object of making money’.76 For her second novel, Dark tried hard to secure local publication and approached P. R. Stephensen at the Endeavour Press. Farquharson warned, ‘While it is of course a good thing to try and publish in Australia . . . prior publication there would make it impossible to find a publisher in either [London or New York].’ Dark wrote to Nettie Palmer, asking if this were true and asserted, ‘If it is, it is high time someone tried 72 Quotations in ibid., pp. 130, 135, 126, 141, 143, 156–7. 73 ‘A Woman’s Letter’, Bulletin, 8 November 1923. 74 Barbara Brooks with Judith Clark, Eleanor Dark: A Writer’s Life, Pan Macmillan, 1998, pp. 77–8. 75 Quoted in ibid., p. 82. 76 Quotations in ibid., pp. 95, 120.


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to establish a precedent.’ When Farquharson and John Long asked for alterations as a condition of publication, she replied, ‘I am anxious that it be published first in my own country’, adding, ‘If you can arrange subsequent or even simultaneous publication in London, excluding Australian rights, well and good.’ With the aid of a subsidy, Prelude to Christopher was published in Sydney by Stephensen and Co. in 1934. While still drawing on the conventions of magazine fiction, it shows modernist influences: its narrative present occupies only a few days, while the past is filled in by cinematic flashbacks and stream of consciousness. It is a novel of ideas, dealing with the international issues that engaged the Darks and their circle, including eugenics, social justice, the role of women in society, their relation to biology, and the relations between individuals and the state. Both its style and its themes led to mixed reviews. Marjorie Barnard told Nettie Palmer that she found it ‘pretentious, over-written and unconvincing’, but it was generally accepted as another landmark Australian novel, the Australian Women’s Weekly expressing surprise that a work of this kind had been published outside London or New York.77 With Return to Coolami, Dark achieved a new level of international success, partly because of her return to romance formulas: Nettie Palmer described it as being written in ‘high magazine style’. Unable to publish again with Stephensen, who was in financial trouble, Dark sent the manuscript to Curtis Brown in London, who became her new literary agent. Coolami was published there by Collins in January 1935, and its success led to the first British publication of Prelude to Christopher, which was nominated the Evening Standard Book of the Month. Curtis Brown’s New York office arranged for publication by Macmillan in the United States in 1936, where it was widely reviewed. Dark’s next novel, Sun Across the Sky (1937) was published in the same way in London and New York. Based on a car trip by two couples from Sydney to a sheep station in western New South Wales, the romance plot of Return to Coolami manages to raise in complex ways a number of distinctly modern ethical issues. Quoting one of the American reviews, Dark described it self-deprecatingly to Miles Franklin as ‘ “a novel for the porch and hammock trade” . . . Anything less highbrow could hardly be imagined’. Yet her biographer, Barbara Brooks, offers a compelling explanation for its success, which was based upon her balancing international publishing trends with her own concerns as a serious Australian woman writer: ‘She was trying to find a style and a form that would bridge gaps many of her contemporaries found it hard to cross – between the innovations of European modernist writing and the conventions of popular writing, and between an urban woman’s consciousness and concerns about national identity and national culture.’78 It was through these kinds of accommodations that Australian writers negotiated the fault lines between national and international literary space. Dark’s balancing of the different demands of well-made narrative, modernist experimentation with time and point of view, and the novel of ideas was most successfully 77 Quotations in ibid., pp. 127–8, 129–38.


78 Quotations in ibid., p. 147.

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realised in Waterway (1938). Following Stead’s Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934) and Dymphna Cusack’s Jungfrau (1936), this was Dark’s great novel of modern Sydney. Waterway describes a day in the lives of a group of people in the harbour suburbs of Vaucluse and Watson’s Bay, culminating in a ferry crash based on the Greycliffe disaster of 1927 (see Chapter 10). Brooks describes it as ‘a between-the-wars novel, a novel about a city divided by economic issues, looking back to the Depression and forward to the coming war’. These various crises – personal, financial, ethical and political – ‘bear down on the characters the way the boat bears down on the ferry’. Reviewers recognised the Australianness of Waterway, and ‘the fostering of a national consciousness’ was one of its explicit themes – one of its characters is a publisher based on Stephensen – but the main business of its publication was conducted, via Curtis Brown in London, with Macmillan in New York, whose office Dark visited during her only overseas trip in 1937. She complained to Curtis Brown that Waterway was unavailable in leading Sydney bookshops, yet her friends, the Evatts, saw it displayed on a bookstall at Victoria Station in London.79 In November 1937, Dark’s English publisher, William Collins, described her novels of the 1930s as ‘one-day action books’ – this was in reference to her adoption of modernist narrative techniques. She replied that she had commenced a new work, ‘a semi-historical book about Australian life’ covering some 200 years. The Timeless Land was to be the first in a trilogy of historical novels about early-19th-century Australia: it was followed by Storm of Time (1948) and No Barrier (1953). The Timeless Land was finished in August 1940, and sent to Curtis Brown. War-time paper shortages delayed publication until September 1941, and then Collins determined that it was cheaper to print in Australia than Britain, so The Timeless Land was actually published in Sydney in 1941. But the influence of overseas reviews remained persuasive and in July, Dark received news from New York that it had been selected by the American Book-ofthe-Month Club. Marjorie Barnard wrote, ‘American success is success’80 – it was the recurring pattern of ‘crowning’ by overseas reception. The Timeless Land sold exceptionally well both in Australia and in the United States, and was widely regarded as the most important Australian novel of the post-war decade. After the Book-of-the-Month Club nomination, Macmillan sold 120 000 copies in that year alone, launching it in the New York Times Book Review as ‘a novel of towering stature’. Richard Casey, Australia’s ambassador to the United States, wrote to say that he had seen people reading it on the train from Washington to New York. In Australia it was set on secondary school reading lists, and Dark was invited to give talks and lectures on its themes. The Timeless Land become one of the most important ways a generation of readers learned about Australian history. Deeply informed by Dark’s original research in the Mitchell Library, it was also innovative in interpreting the settlement of New South Wales from multiple points of view, not least those of Aboriginal characters such 79 Ibid., pp. 183, 191, 200–202.

80 Quoted in ibid., pp. 205, 207, 248.


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as Bennelong. It was at once positive about the achievements of settlement and critical of its mistakes. In an essay on ‘Australia and the Australians’ (1944), Dark argued that against the development of ‘the people’s consciousness of themselves as a nation’ must be seen ‘the ignorance and greed that used the land too recklessly’ and, ‘heaviest upon our conscience, the blunders of our dealings with the black Australians whose land we stole’.81

The commerical writers: Idriess, Clune, Upfield As Stephensen’s low regard for Idriess suggests, cultural nationalists not only championed Australian literature against expatriate and overseas authors, but also against commercially successful national writers like Arthur Upfield, Idriess, Frank Clune and Ernestine Hill, whom they either ridiculed or simply ignored.82 Idriess’ books were virtually ubiquitous in middle-class Australian homes of the period, and were sold using the modern, American-style advertising methods that Stephensen and the Palmers deplored. While Angus & Robertson had declined to publish first novels by a succession of serious Australian writers from Franklin to Dark, its commissioning editor, Walter Cousins, collaborated with Idriess to establish a series of bestselling titles. The statistics bear out their success. The first edition of Flynn of the Inland (1932) sold out within weeks, a print run of 2000; a second edition of 2500 sold out within a month. By June 1945, 24 editions later, 56 924 copies had been sold. Gold Dust and Ashes, about gold prospecting in Papua, was published in 1933; over the next decade it was reprinted 19 times, selling over 40 000 copies. Drums of Mer, also published in 1933, was the first of Idriess’ four historical novels set in Torres Strait. In the decade to 1944, it was reprinted 14 times and sold just under 24 000 copies.83 The popularity of these writers points to the importance of what David Carter calls the middlebrow in Australian literary history. Middlebrow culture was associated with a range of cultural institutions that emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, such as subscriber book clubs (including the American Book-of-the-Month Club), book societies, and bestseller lists. In the 1920s, middlebrow culture was still largely an imported affair, sustaining the authority of literary reputations established in London and New York: Angus & Robertson depended for its survival upon reprints of popular middlebrow bestsellers from overseas. It was on the back of such success that novels like The Fortunes of Richard Mahony and The Timeless Land were able to return home, their reputations enhanced by nomination in the United States as Books of the Month. By the 1930s, however, Carter argues that middlebrow culture was beginning to ‘absorb to itself the 81 Ibid., pp. 356–8; ‘Australia and the Australians’, Australian Weekend Book 3 (1944), pp. 9–14, quoted in Brooks, Eleanor Dark, pp. 293–4. 82 See Nile, Making of the Australian Literary Imagination, pp. 154–6. 83 Figures cited in Beverley Eley, Ion Idriess, ETT, 1995, pp. 144, 398–400.


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idea of the national’, as seen in such local bestsellers as Hill’s historical novel about explorer Matthew Flinders, My Love Must Wait (1941). This ‘national middlebrow’ reaches its peak in the late 1940s consequent upon a significant thickening in the institutional context: the appearance in Australia of book societies, book-of-the-month selections, radio book shows, commercial book reviews, and the rise of little magazines. In 1940, for example, J. O. Anchen, a senior inspector of schools in Victoria, published a guide to The Australian Novel. It supplied readers with a list of ‘50 first-class books’ and a recommended ‘top ten’ that mixed highbrow and popular authors without anxiety: Henry Handel Richardson, G. B. Lancaster, Xavier Herbert, Tarlton Rayment, Christina Stead, Michael Innes, Leonard Mann, Arthur Upfield, Kylie Tennant and Myra Morris.84

Christina Stead and Patrick White The most extreme case of an international Australian writer long alienated from national literary space is Christina Stead. Stead left Australia in 1928 at the age of 26 and did not return until 1974 at the age of 72, having spent 46 years abroad. Her biographer, Hazel Rowley, argues that ‘No major writer of any nationality has been more truly cosmopolitan than Christina Stead. . . . And yet, as an Australian expatriate who set her novels in Europe, New York and . . . England, she was rejected by her compatriots as “un-Australian”.’85 In the heavily autobiographical For Love Alone (1944), Stead says of James Quick that he saw ‘Whitehall from the American viewpoint’ and ‘the White House as from . . . some Middle-Western State’.86 Quick’s mobile, multi-layered perspective suggests the layered cosmopolitanism of both Stead and her partner, William Blake. One of the great challenges in approaching Stead’s life, her career in writing and her body of work is therefore to see them all as richly cosmopolitan artefacts, as products of a collision between her originary Australian experience and the many social networks, intellectual formations and cultural institutions of the three great capitals of the world republic of letters in which she lived and worked: London, Paris and New York. The centrality of London and New York in the publication history of Stead’s novels is striking. The Salzburg Tales (1934) was published in London by Peter Davies and New York by Appleton-Century; there was no Australian edition until 1966. Seven Poor Men of Sydney was also published by Peter Davies in 1934 and Appleton-Century in 1935; an Angus & Robertson edition appeared in 1965. The Beauties and Furies, set in Paris, appeared in 1936, again with Peter Davies and Appleton-Century, but there has been no Australian edition. House of All Nations was published in 1938 by Peter Davies and Simon & Schuster, and in Sydney by Angus & Robertson in 1974 – the year of 84 Carter, ‘The Mystery of the Missing Middlebrow’, pp. 189–90. 85 Rowley, Christina Stead, p. viii. 86 Quoted in ibid., p. 166.


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Stead’s return to Australia. The Man Who Loved Children first appeared in New York with Simon & Schuster in 1940 and in London with Peter Davies in 1941, and was reprinted by Holt, Rinehart & Winston in 1965. It was eventually published by Angus & Robertson, again in 1974. For Love Alone first appeared in New York with Harcourt Brace in 1944, in London with Peter Davies in 1945, and then in Sydney with Angus & Robertson in 1966. Miles Franklin described Seven Poor Men of Sydney as ‘Seven Poor Men of Bloomsbury’, implying that Stead was too much influenced by overseas fashions.87 This great novel of Sydney was indeed written deep inside international literary space, in Paris. Stead arrived there in 1928, that landmark year in the ‘reappearance’ of the Australian novel, though as Rowley observes, she ‘had taken a very different path from those writers who stayed in Australia’.88 In Paris, as we have seen, she and Blake mixed with artists, writers and editors, kept up with debates in modernist journals like Transition, and visited Sylvia Beach’s famous bookshop in the rue de l’Odeon. Stead was reading Joyce, Yeats, Pound, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Thomas Mann. Her early fiction was profoundly influenced by contemporary modernist fiction, as is evident in its sudden shifts of tone and register; its fascination with language, with dream and fantasy, with Nietzsche and Freud; and its frequent references to other literary texts. Rowley argues that Stead was especially influenced by Joyce, carefully reading and re-reading Ulysses: ‘Like him, she was writing about the modern city. Like him, she lived in exile and wrote from memory about her city of birth.’ The Sydney of Seven Poor Men is mediated by Paris and by international modernism: its characters, its settings and its dialogue are drawn from the people and places Stead knew in Paris, including Blake, who was the origin of Baruch Mendelssohn. For Dorothy Green, ‘It was Seven Poor Men of Sydney, rather than any early Patrick White novel’ that heralded the arrival of modernism in Australian literature.89 While Stead’s modernism is now understood, the extent of her involvement in the institutions of the political left, both in England and the United States, and the influence of Marxist theory on her fiction, require further examination. In London from 1934, Stead mixed with Blake’s circle, which included communist journalists and intellectuals associated with the Daily Worker and the Left Review. At the International Congress in Paris in 1935 she was close to the English delegation; her account of the congress in the July issue of Left Review declared that the task of the writer was to ‘enter the political arena . . . and use the pen as a scalpel for . . . cutting through the morbid tissues of the social anatomy’.90 In New York from 1935, Stead was close to Mike Gold, the founding editor of the New Masses, the principal communist weekly in America, and she joined the communist-affiliated League of American Writers in 1937. While working on 87 Franklin, Laughter Not for a Cage, p. 172. 88 Rowley, Christina Stead, p. 122. 89 Ibid., p. 130, and quote, pp. 129–30. 90 Quoted in ibid., p. 173.


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House of All Nations, her novel about the corruption of the European financial system, Stead was also writing non-fiction for the New Masses and was close to its literary editor, Stanley Burnshaw. Although Rowley’s biography documents these intellectual networks, her view that ‘Stead’s commitment was to her writing, not politics’ seriously underestimates their connection.91 As for most Australian writers of this period, the influence of British and American publishers and editors on Stead’s writing also remains little understood. They include Peter Davies in London and, in New York, Stanley Burnshaw at New Masses, Clifton Fadiman and Max Schuster at Simon & Schuster, and Pascal Covici at Viking. Davies had accepted Seven Poor Men in 1931, but fearing it was too difficult asked Stead to write something more accessible first: the result was The Salzburg Tales. He and his assistant, James Grant, were closely involved in the revision of Seven Poor Men. In New York, both Fadiman and Burnshaw were actively involved in Stead’s writing process in the late 1930s. Rowley describes Fadiman as ‘the most vigorous promoter of Christina Stead in America’: he edited House of All Nations and his notes were ‘extremely detailed’. In The Man Who Loved Children, begun in New York in 1938, Stead drew on her own childhood but transferred the novel’s time and location from Sydney in the 1910s to Baltimore in the 1930s. Rowley argues that she did so at the insistence of her publisher. One reason why British and North American editing has remained largely invisible in Australian literary history is suggested by H. M. Green’s response to House of All Nations in 1939: ‘it does not really concern us, for its author left Australia ten years ago and settled abroad, and the book is cosmopolitan in tone and subject’.92 Stead’s reputation as one of the major Australian writers of the 20th century is now second only to that of Patrick White. As Simon During argues, White’s development as a writer was also shaped by literary institutions and social formations with an international reach: these include his parents’ British connections, his own transatlantic gay connections, and the international nature of literary modernism itself.93 In 1930, as a young man newly returned to Australia from school in England, White encountered recently published work by Australian writers, including Ultima Thule and A House is Built, but there was no sense in which his taste was formed by an Australian literary tradition of the kind that Nettie Palmer had begun to envisage. As David Marr observes, ‘the notion of there being an “Australian literature” was then considered odd and pretentious’, and his English education had ‘left him untouched by, almost ignorant of, the writing which made up the Australian tradition’.94 At Cambridge from 1932 to 1935, he read modern languages, specialising in French and German literature, and read widely and deeply in the major works of 19th-century and modern British and 91 Ibid., p. 254. 92 Ibid., pp. 203, 233, 261 and quote, p. 256. 93 Simon During, Patrick White, OUP, 1996, p. 4. 94 David Marr, Patrick White: A Life, Random House, 1991, pp. 99–100.


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European literature: Chekhov, Ibsen and Strindberg; Hardy, Forster, Joyce, Lawrence, Woolf and Mansfield; Stendhal, Flaubert, and Proust.95 After Cambridge, White settled in London determined to become a writer. He there met the Australian-born painter, Roy de Maistre, who introduced him to a circle of painters, musicians, critics and writers whose tastes were modernist. Mindful of de Maistre’s injunction that a serious artist must be modern, he began reworking a manuscript novel drawing on his jackerooing experience in the Monaro, now informed by the techniques of modern British writers, especially stream of consciousness. Happy Valley was published by the London firm of George G. Harrup in 1939. Henry Handel Richardson aptly described it as ‘Australia – or a bit of it – seen through Joyce’s spectacles’.96 Happy Valley was well received in London, its first print run selling out, and a second carrying endorsements by Graham Greene, Herbert Read and V. S. Pritchett. The Australian journalist Guy Innes concluded an interview with White by expressing the hope that he might one day return to Australia, though considering it unlikely, ‘for this author exemplifies Australia’s tendency to export its talent, and once that talent departs it seldom returns’.97 After the publication of Happy Valley, White left London for the United States, where he began his second novel, The Living and the Dead, its title taken from the final line of Joyce’s Dubliners. Its protagonist, Elyot Standish, moves in the exclusive London society to which White’s lover, the Spanish diplomat Jose Mamblas, had introduced him. White returned to New York again in 1940 to meet the publisher Ben Huebsch of Viking, who had accepted Happy Valley for publication in the United States. Marr rightly describes Huebsch as ‘the rock on which Patrick White’s career was built’. A liberal Jewish intellectual, Huebsch had published Lawrence and Joyce, and championed modern American authors, including Upton Sinclair and Sherwood Anderson. An idealistic rather than commercial publisher, he nurtured and valued the work of literary writers, and was prepared to carry unprofitable titles in whose worth he believed. Happy Valley appeared to great acclaim in New York in June 1940. While British reviews were mixed and those in Australia hostile, the New York Times accepted White’s style, noting that ‘stream-of-consciousness is just one of the weapons with which he attacks the citadel of personality’. Huebsch also accepted The Living and the Dead, though the manuscript was rejected by Harrup in London. Marr notes that an important pattern had been set for the next 15 years: ‘immediate acceptance of White’s work in New York and a struggle to find a publisher in London’.98 As During argues, White’s reputation was first established in New York, then in London, and eventually imported back into Australia. This ‘circuit of cultural capital’ was characteristic of the shift in Australia’s international orientation from Britain to the United States, where publishers and critics alike were 95 Ibid., pp. 127, 177. 96 Quoted in Ackland, Henry Handel Richardson, p. 225. 97 Quoted in Marr, Patrick White, p. 180. 98 Ibid., pp. 198, 201.


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more responsive to modernism.99 The Living and the Dead was published by Viking in New York and Routledge in London in 1941; The Aunt’s Story, again by Viking and Routledge in 1948; and The Tree of Man by Viking in 1955, then in London in 1956 by Eyre & Spottiswoode. White returned to Australia in 1947, although he and his partner Manoly Lascaris did not settle permanently in Sydney until the following year. But the decision had been made. He wrote to Mamblas, ‘I landed here after fourteen years absence, and immediately realised how Australian I have been all the time underneath.’100 He had brought with him the manuscript of The Aunt’s Story, which he posted back to Huebsch in New York. White’s major novels, written after his repatriation, can be seen as an inflection, through elements of international literary modernism, of some of the key forms of Australian fiction: the pastoral saga in The Tree of Man, the explorer’s narrative in Voss (1957), and the captivity narrative in A Fringe of Leaves (1976). His ambivalent view of Australia was announced in the essay ‘The Prodigal Son’ (1958), in which he describes ‘the scenes of childhood’ as ‘the purest well from which the creative artist draws’, while savagely denouncing the provincialism of post-war Australian society in his famous phrase, ‘the Great Australian Emptiness’.101 The importance of White’s experiences in Europe and the United States to his formation as an Australian writer is captured in During’s observation that ‘it was his luck and fate to write just when Australia needed a great writer and there was a transnational cultural infrastructure through which it could produce one for world consumption’.102

Miles Franklin’s Laughter Not for a Cage (1956) The work of establishing a cultural-nationalist canon begun by Nettie Palmer in the 1920s was taken up at mid-century by Miles Franklin in a series of lectures for the Commonwealth Literary Fund, published after her death in 1954 as Laughter Not for a Cage (1956). Her outline of Australian literary history in the first half of the 20th century summed up the cultural-nationalist project while also reducing it to its most polemical form. Franklin distinguishes between writers who are rooted in their native soil, who write from ‘authentic’ Australian experience, and ‘expatriate-minded’ writers who have lost touch with their native culture and fallen victim to international fashions. This is illustrated by a comparison of near-contemporaries Joseph Furphy and Henry James. Both were born into newly formed English-speaking communities; both experienced the dif99 During, Patrick White, p. 6. 100 Quoted in Marr, Patrick White, p. 245. 101 Patrick White, ‘The Prodigal Son’, in Patrick White Speaks, Primavera Press, 1989, pp. 14–15. 102 During, Patrick White, p. 4.


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ficulties of cultural transplantation. James responded by cultivating ‘cosmopolitanism’, Furphy by grounding himself more deeply in his native culture: ‘One was a man who ran away, and one a man who stood his ground . . . James forsook his native country, Furphy never set foot in another.’ Without mentioning her own sojourns in the United States and Britain – or her sexuality – Franklin condemns James as ‘a foot-free bachelor of means’ who ‘coddle[d] his sensitivity . . . in drawing rooms and exclusive clubs, . . . or in cosmopolitan Bohemian haunts’. James doomed himself to a ‘double exile’. He betrays no commitment to ‘the . . . [American] experiment in national building’, but ‘turned his back on this mighty new departure’ and remains ‘haunted by his desertion’. He became ‘a literary master’ but also ‘a man astray’. Furphy, by contrast, neither sought nor gained recognition overseas. ‘Rooted to his native soil’, he is ‘in every sense antipodean’, ‘a founding father of the Australian novel’.103 The contrast between James and Furphy is the benchmark for Franklin’s dismissive accounts of Richardson, Brian Penton and Stead as writers who also ‘turned their backs’ on their own culture while never quite becoming British, European or American. Maurice Guest received good reviews only because of Richardson’s ‘absorption of the Continental approach to her theme’. The Mahony trilogy was written at a time when ‘psychology, derived from hearsay and garbling of Freudian theories, was sprung like a blight on society’, and ‘the misfortunes of Richard Mahony caught this wave’.104 Franklin’s unbalanced assessments of Richardson and Stead reflect her own refusal of the cultural authority of Paris, London and New York, and led her to adopt a defensive provincialism: ‘Then, too, like a very big toad into our backyard puddle plumped Christina Stead’s Seven Poor Men of Sydney.’ Her scorn for Stead reflects her own rejection of modernism, not only for its stylistic pretensions but also for its ‘unhealthy’ themes. Stead’s characters ‘cerebrate in analysis of the proletarian upsurge, are introspective self-expositors touched with the brush of the coteries of the Latin Quarter, or Greenwich Village, or Bloomsbury’. She even criticises Penton’s Landtakers (1934), suggesting that in contrast to her own Brent of Bin-Bin novels he tainted the Australian pastoral saga by ‘aping’ European trends, which seem belated in the hands of Australian writers: Australian novelists have a time-lag in jargon and patter that sometimes heighten and more often becloud thought among the quidnuncs of Bohemian cliques in the big capitals abroad. . . . but the use of jargon merely to be in smart-alec vogue gives them the air of wearing a chapeau which is not le dernier cri from Paris.

In a back-handed compliment, Franklin acknowledges that Richardson and Stead were ‘rewarded by approval as being modern’. Finally, too, her diatribe against cosmopolitanism was a response to what she saw as an emerging academic deference to Europe. 103 Franklin, Laughter Not for a Cage, pp. 125–7.


104 Ibid., pp. 147–8.

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‘The Australian’, she believed, ‘needs to dismiss from consciousness the bugbear of any necessity to be “universal” or to strain after “world standard” with which misguided academics have saddled him.’105 Franklin’s parting shot at ‘academics’ came at a time in the mid-1950s when a new generation of university-based and often Oxbridge-trained critics – including A. D. Hope, G. A. Wilkes, Vincent Buckley and Grahame Johnston – were taking a professional interest in Australian literature that threatened to replace the authority of the earlier generation of cultural-nationalist intellectuals, who were largely outside the academy. Hope’s essay ‘Standards in Australian Literature’, published in the same year as Laughter Not for a Cage, advanced a very different cultural mission for Australian literature and a critical practice whose ‘universal’ values would inspire ‘greatness’ in Australian writing. ‘As is natural in a new country’, Hope opined, ‘there have been few writers who by the general standards of European literature were at all outstanding.’106 Franklin and Hope’s contrasting values anticipate Pascale Casanova’s account of the competitive relations between national literatures in world literary space. While Franklin’s cultural nationalism set the tone for one version of Australian literary history, her exclusion of writers who looked to Europe and North America (as others later looked to Asia) for inspiration would occasion a series of revisions by academic critics of later generations. In a recent overview of Australian literature, Graham Huggan concludes, ‘it is now generally recognized . . . that national literatures are globally produced, often by expatriate or diasporic writers who . . . may still choose to market their “Australianness” . . . both for a domestic audience and a larger audience elsewhere’.107 Casanova’s world republic of letters is suggestive of ways to think about the forces that shaped Australian writing in the period from 1890 to 1950: it suggests that a purely inward-looking approach to literary history is inadequate to understand how a national literature is formed in relation to influences that go beyond the boundaries of the nation. It also provides the means to create a slight analytical distance from the cultural-nationalist project, which otherwise remains foundational to Australian literature and its histories. Australian writers were always part of world literary space. This is evident in their physical mobility, and in the shaping roles of their overseas editors, publishers, reviewers and critics. Thinking about Australian writers at this time as belonging not just to the nation but also to an expanded field in which national literatures come into being in complex and competitive relations in world literary space also provides a way of understanding different kinds of career without denigrating the ‘expatriate’ writer. As Laughter Not for a Cage demonstrates, this has not been a neutral concept in literary history but is an

105 Ibid., pp. 172, 179, 225. 106 A. D. Hope, ‘Standards in Australian Literature’, Current Affairs Bulletin (November 1956), reprinted in Delys Bird, Robert Dixon and Christopher Lee (eds), Authority and Influence: Australian Literary Criticism, 1950–200, UQP, 2001, pp. 3–5. 107 Graham Huggan, Australian Literature: Postcolonialism, Racism and Transnationalism, OUP, 2007, p. 11.


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artefact of the period’s own cultural nationalism, the benchmark against which nationalist writers defined their values. Perhaps, then, Australian expatriatism does not quite deserve its low reputation. Clive James, who left Australia for London in 1962, argues that the perception of Australian expatriates has changed: ‘If there was ever any resentment that anyone went away and stayed away, it has altered now. . . . Australia . . . sends people abroad as a natural part of its productivity.’108 108 Clive James, interview, Sydney Morning Herald, Review, 28–29 October 2006, pp. 4–5.



Australia’s England, 1880–1950 peter morton

Sailing for Eldorado: ‘Home’ in the literary imagination You’re off away to London now, Where no one dare ignore you, With Southern laurels on your brow, And all the world before you.1

On 20 April 1900, hot from the success of his first collections of bush ballads and stories, Henry Lawson took ship for England. His mission: to find new material and markets for his work, to test his mettle in a more challenging milieu, and to stop drinking. He was seen off by a group of Sydney writers, none of whom thought it especially odd that a foremost Australian writer should wish to continue his career half a world away; in fact, many shared his ambition. Armed as he was with encouraging letters from publishers and cuttings of British reviews (‘the antipodean Kipling’ some were calling him), Lawson had reason to feel optimistic. He had dreamed of making the trip for years, and three patrons had had enough confidence in him to pay his family’s fare. Everything seemed to augur well. And indeed England did treat Lawson quite well. Edward Garnett, the man of letters who also fostered the careers in England of Barbara Baynton and Vance Palmer, was helpful about having a word in the right ear. His long-suffering agent, J. B. Pinker, was tolerant and efficient. Publishers were remarkably generous. At a time when a trained clerk was lucky to get much more than a pound a week, Blackwood paid Lawson more than £60 for three stories. Another, Methuen, gave him a £200 advance for Children of the Bush, and certainly never saw it back in sales. All in all, Lawson received what was the fairly typical treatment of Australian writers. Even when he returned to Sydney under a cloud, his jaunty advice was still: ‘Go to London . . . if you want to do good work, and feel that you can do it, you will need in the first place to live for, say, twelve months in London – for London isn’t going to be hustled.’2 1 Henry Lawson, ‘The Rush to London’: probably written 1900; published in For Australia (1913). Reprinted in Collected Verse, ed. Colin Roderick, A&R, 1967–9, vol. I, p. 386. 2 Henry Lawson, Collected Prose, ed. Colin Roderick, A&R, 1972, vol. II, p. 167.


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But 20 years later Lawson, by now far gone in his terminal decline, scrawled some lines expressing very different sentiments about that trip: We were but married children and but lately put to sea; We sailed for Eldorado in the Golden Vanity, The ship was wrecked in London, and neither was to blame. But liars lied in Sydney, and they spread their tales of shame. The captain’s hair greyed in a year, and not a word said he. Oh! would that he had never seen the Golden Vanity!3

The full story of what happened during Lawson’s two-and-a-quarter years remains obscure. His wife became suicidal and delusional, his children were boarded out, and in the end he made a precipitate return by himself, abandoning all his plans. Clearly his private experience had been dreadful. Lawson himself later referred to ‘days in London like a nightmare’.4 Here, then, is the other side of the coin for the expatriate writer. For Lawson’s verse captures some of the motives and the tribulations of the many literary Australians who sought Eldorado on their own Golden Vanity – the hope of reward, in sales or in reputation, counterbalanced by the fear of failure, of not measuring up There was the risk of missing new opportunities at home and being forgotten; or, alternatively, having to endure without right of reply the envy of colleagues left behind, and the malicious rumours which might be put into circulation. Anyone could be victimised by one or another of the cruel axioms of expatriation: if you didn’t go, it was because you were afraid you were no good; if you did go, you were a traitor; if you went and came back, you were a failure. If you did go, there was the thorny issue of deciding when, or indeed whether, to return home. But in which hemisphere, really, lay home? Was it the place of departure, or of arrival? Was it the port of embarkation, from which so many of the best and brightest, before and after Lawson’s time, waved their goodbyes with a mixture of joy and anxiety? Or was it that ancestral world, which was a matter of personal memory or recent family history, given the fact that nearly every person to be mentioned here came from Anglo-Celtic stock? Actually ‘home’ (in the quixotic sense meaning Britain) was a problematic, exploitable term except for a period around the middle of the 19th century. By the 1890s the journalist Francis Adams was reporting that ‘ten years ago England was spoken of affectionately as the Old Country or Home. Now it is “home” or more sarcastically “ ’ome”. The inverted commas make all the difference, and the dropped “h” contains a class contempt.’ So for the sophisticated Australian-born at 3 The poem, titled ‘The Harriet’, is dated July 1920 but was never published; it is printed from an MS in Lawson, Collected Verse, vol. III, pp. 392–3. It imitates Kipling’s ‘The Three-Decker’ (1894), which uses the same ship metaphor and is in the same ‘fourteener’ metre. 4 Quoted in Colin Roderick, Henry Lawson: A Life, A&R, 1991, p. 246. The best account of Lawson’s London days is Meg Tasker and Lucy Sussex. ‘ “That Wild Run to London”: Henry and Bertha Lawson in England’, Australian Literary Studies, 23.2 (Oct. 2007), pp. 168–86.


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least, the word has been used, in some hands, with a certain self-consciousness for a century or more.5 Still, whatever the exact resonance of ‘home’, it certainly needs limiting as far as the visiting and e´ migr´e writers are concerned. ‘Home’ for them never meant Great Britain: that is, neither Scotland, Wales, Ireland nor even provincial England. It meant London. Other European places might call ambitious youth: Paris for singers, Rome for sculptors and painters, Berlin or Leipzig for musicians, Heidelberg for student life. For the idealistic, there was Switzerland for international politics; for the active anti-fascist, there was Republican Spain. After 1917, for committed communists like the journalist– novelist Katharine Susannah Prichard, the Soviet Union called. And, of course, during the Boer War and the two world wars, thousands of ordinary people went much further afield than Europe. Yet, for writers, there was only one magnet: London. London was the forge and measuring-rod of success. London was a city of six million at the start of the new century. Thirty years would pass before all of Australia held that many people. It was the modern world’s earliest and biggest metropolis. Certainly there were other metropolises emerging in the world – Paris, Berlin, New York. But London was the only imperial metropolis. It was sometimes called the new Rome, but that was an understatement. Power radiated from it to every quarter of the globe, as it administered the affairs of 400 million people; and in the other direction, into the richest entrepˆot in the world, flowed tribute in the form of people, goods and ideas from everywhere. At the height of empire, c.1925, the city at the centre of all that pinkish-red on the globe was itself metonymic for imperial power, and packed within it were other potent metonymies: Buckingham Palace for the monarchy; the Square Mile for finance; the West End for fashion; Big Ben for stable democracy; Whitehall for imperial governance; Bloomsbury and Poets’ Corner for literature; Chelsea for art; and finally Greenwich for the ground zero of global space and time. Of this great human hive, Australians were indisputably the free-born citizens, entitled to define themselves, as Richard Mahony does, as ‘Civis Britannicus sum’.6 When the Dover cliffs hove into view, they knew that everything that lay beyond was their birthright. ‘Hold up your head in England, / Tread firm on London streets’, Henry Lawson assured those who were on the same quest as himself. ‘For no men are your betters / Who never sailed from home!’7 5 Francis Adams, The Australians: A Social Sketch, T. Fisher Unwin, 1893, p. 41. See also the relevant entries in W. S. Ramson, The Australian National Dictionary: A Dictionary of Australianisms on Historical Principles, OUP, 1988. Yet in 1911 Miles Franklin uses it quite naturally in a letter referring to a brief visit to London from Chicago: ‘Perhaps if I had gone straight home to London from Australia I would have looked upon it as a different country’: Jill Roe (ed.), My Congenials: Miles Franklin and Friends in Letters, A&R, 1993, vol. II, p. 68. 6 Henry Handel Richardson, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, Penguin, 1998, p. 416. Actually, they had no alternative. Throughout this period Australians were British subjects, with exactly the same status as any other Briton. One could not easily opt out of being a Briton: it was not until right at the end (1948) that there was any such category as ‘Australian’ citizenship at all. 7 Henry Lawson, ‘From the Bush’, When I Was King and Other Verses (1905); reprinted in Collected Verse, vol. I, p. 387.


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Lawson probably meant his last line to be ambiguous, just as H. H. Richardson made ambiguous the title of the second part of her Richard Mahony trilogy: The Way Home. There would be no real home for her doctor-hero in Buddlecombe or London, any more than there had been in Ballarat. But many youthful writers of Australia were not disposed to see either ambiguity or irony in the concept. They went off to allay that unsettling, and sometimes corrosive, belief that reality was over there, that one’s doom, otherwise, was to be forever on the margin: Every afternoon, away in far Australia, there comes over us all a half-past-two-in-theafternoon feeling, an intolerable ennui, a sense of emptiness and discontent, a longing for something large and full that cannot be exhausted. . . . It is our remoteness that pains us. We are so far, far off. Our veins run warm with English blood, and London calls, calls, and we are there, a whole world away. That is the meaning of the half-past-twoin-the-afternoon feeling.8

That ‘intolerable ennui’, that appetite for London, could generate an ‘almost insane lust’. It did so in the future historical novelist Philip Lindsay, when, trapped in Sydney, he heard from his brother Jack, who had gone on ahead, casual news of the Russian ballet, ‘meeting gods like Aldous Huxley in the Caf´e Royal, of actually getting drunk with Liam O’Flaherty! I couldn’t believe it, I dared not believe it.’9 Lindsay writes dramatically, but his and others’ attitude is comprehensible enough. It is impossible to exaggerate the sheer power of the English cultural hegemony, and especially so, perhaps, over the literary arts. Stay-at-home writers took their main nutriment from Britain; nutriment which arrived in gobbets at six-weekly intervals. When they picked up a book or a magazine, the chances were these products had been written and produced in Britain, by Britons, and shipped out in bales; when they published a book of their own, they looked for a London publisher either because they had no choice or because they were pursuing the prestige and sales it might bring. They could read nothing, write nothing, criticise nothing, without being reminded that their literary culture was a derivative one, stuck fast in the relationship of colony to metropolis. To dream of a voyage from periphery to centre was a natural enough reaction against this cultural schizophrenia. Indeed, around the turn of the century, Miles Franklin, with precise acerbity, makes her heroine Sybylla Melvyn assert that there are only four things that should keep anyone from leaving for England: Poverty. Ignorance. Misfortune. Incompetence. They ring out like a new set of deadly sins.10 Yet it was not an easy journey to plan or make in the early years. The tyranny of distance meant a visit to London, particularly a first visit on a one-way ticket, was a daunting challenge for most impecunious writers. It demanded determination. It was 8 Louise Mack, An Australian Girl in London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1902, pp. 240–1. 9 Philip Lindsay, I’d Live the Same Life Over: Being the Progress, or Rather the Circumgyration of Philip Lindsay, Hutchinson, 1941, pp. 116, 133. 10 Miles Franklin, My Career Goes Bung, Virago, 1981, p. 233. The novel was drafted in 1902, before Franklin left Australia herself for Chicago in 1906.


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too disruptive to be the youthful travel ritual which it became in the 1960s, although it was already commonplace enough for the affluent around the turn of the century. The author of Bush Studies, Barbara Baynton, frequently travelled to and fro in her later years, though by then she was more the rich socialite than author. One family made the return trip more than 30 times.11 But the average passenger-list in the years before 1914 yields a more prosaic assortment of people. A semi-autobiographical novel of 1907 gives little studies of a university professor and his family, a tea-planter, nurses, a sallow American, various theatrical folk and ‘a table of uneaten missionaries’.12 Such was a representative cross-section of Australians arriving at British ports: about 2000 a year of them in the 1870s, 10 000 from the 1890s until the Great War, and perhaps a figure climbing above 20 000 in the period until World War II. Writers, intellectuals and other creative and artistic folk constituted only a tiny fraction of these, though collectively they added up to a considerable number.13 The period under review takes us roughly from the last days of the clipper, through the era of the coal-fired steamship and that of the diesel-driven passenger liner, and finally to scheduled flying-boat services right at the end, costing a hugely expensive 300 guineas in 1948. The voyage took five to six weeks. A steerage passage in a two-berth cabin for a family of four cost under £40 in 1900 and £38 for the cheapest possible bunk in a six-berth cabin without a porthole in the 1920s.14 By the mid-1930s, Christina Stead’s heroine in For Love Alone knows precisely what she needs to scrape together: ‘forty-four pounds for the boat-fare, third class, and of course I must have ten pounds to land with’.15 It had taken Stead herself three years to save what she needed before she left in 1928. But no matter. Almost all – not quite all – writers understood that, since they wrote in English, their work would always be seen as twigs on the parent tree, and assessed as such. London was the supreme court of literary judgment, and not to appear at its bar to submit to ‘a London hearing’ (Lawson’s phrase) was not to be a writer at all. The unsettling question was that travelling writers were Gullivers who never knew in advance whether they were heading for Lilliput or Brobdingnag. Would their compeers on the other side of the world prove to be, from their point of view, creative midgets or giants? Would publishers and editors beg for their favours, or eject them on to the pavement? Under-confidence in one’s powers could be as fatal as overconfidence.

11 Ros Pesman, Duty Free: Australian Women Abroad, OUP, 1996, p. 24. 12 Winifred James, Bachelor Betty, Tauchnitz, 1908, p. 18. The content of this novel is based on her first trip to England in 1905. 13 Pesman, Duty Free, p. 23. K. S. Inglis, ‘Going Home: Australians in England, 1870–1900’ in David Fitzpatrick (ed.), Home or Away? Immigrants in Colonial Australia, Research School of Social Sciences, ANU, 1992, offers similar figures. 14 ‘Dear God,’ moaned Philip Lindsay in his autobiography, ‘was there ever so much money in all the world!’ His father, Norman, came up with the fare: I’d Live the Same Life Over, p. 145. 15 Christina Stead, For Love Alone, Virago, p. 241. This part of the novel is set in 1933–4.


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Expatriation, or a bullet in the cranium? They shrank from the land they were going to, a land of tyranny denounced by English patriots and abandoned by their own grandfathers, a land of unrest, the land of Dickens, poor seamstresses in Poultry and mud-spattered Watling Street, a London, cloud-sunk, an adamantine island chained to the shifting bank of the Channel, the city of Limehouse and Jack the Ripper.16

Sentiments such as these were meaningless to the well-heeled Australians who visited Britain as tourists, indulging themselves in one or two trips of a lifetime. If they were journalists, or had literary aspirations, they might well turn their impressions into a chatty book; others kept diaries, which they sometimes restructured into private memoirs afterwards.17 Many others, however, travelled on one-way tickets, early in their lives, for a stay of indefinite length, so naturally their attitude to Britain tended to be more ambivalent and to fluctuate over time; but still, for writers, ‘the land of Dickens’ was a phrase that rang out more cheerfully than otherwise. Dickens’ career was, after all, the archetypal author’s success story. Their motives for leaving were varied, and often mixed, but it is not wide of the mark to call them economic migrants. There was money to be made in London as well as a reputation. The London literary market-place was the richest in the world. It was also the most competitive, but for those who could produce the goods there were glittering prizes to be had, and even second-raters could scrape a fair living. Local authors sought a London publisher in any case, and since most books on sale throughout this period were British imports, Australian writers risked little in the way of local sales by relocating to England (see Chapter 11). So the question might well be not: Why go to England? but rather: Why stay in Australia? Making a living – even a bare existence – as a full-time author or freelance journalist was, notoriously, exceedingly difficult in the post-Federation years, and for long after. There were the awful examples of local writers like Price Warung (William Astley, d.1911), author of convict tales, whose wretched career was dogged by illhealth, low pay, and a morphia habit. There was Mary Fortune, an obscure scribbler of detective fiction for 50 years for the Australian Journal, who died blind and poor around 1910 and was buried, bizarrely, ‘in another person’s grave’ in a place and at a date forgotten.18 There were, of course, rare exceptions. Rolf Boldrewood is said to have made £10 000 from his bushranger stories – all of them published in London, however. The two greatest weaknesses of the Australian literary milieu were that it offered so 16 Sentiments given to Jonathan Crow in ibid., p. 189. 17 Travellers’ accounts written in this period are discussed by Andrew Hassam, Neither English nor Foreign: Australian Travellers in Britain, c.1870–c.1970 (Trevor Reese Memorial Lecture), Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, 2000, and Richard White, ‘Bluebells and Fogtown: Australians’ First Impressions of England, 1860–1940’, Australian Cultural History, 5 (1986), pp. 44–59. 18 Details from Lucy Sussex, ‘Mary Fortune ca.1833–ca.1910’ in Selina Samuels (ed.), Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 230: Australian Literature, 1788–1914, Gale, 2001, pp. 99–112.


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few of those useful supplementary jobs such as reviewing or editing or teaching, and almost no opportunities for the miscellaneous writer or literary journalist working in the tradition of what the French call ‘high vulgarisation’. What local magazines did exist were in competition with the imported article like the Cornhill or Punch, copies of which in earlier times could be posted from England for one penny.19 Certainly there was a handful of journals, at different times: the Australian Journal (1869–1962), the Bulletin (from 1880), the Bookfellow (1911–25), the Lone Hand (1907–21); All about Books (1928–38), the Australian Quarterly (from 1929), Southerly (1939) and Meanjin (1940): but the idea of actually making a living writing full-time for any of these was laughable. In Britain, by contrast, the demand from the 1880s onwards for all kinds of literary wares was insatiable. The journalist Raymond Blathwayt records in his autobiography how he had the brainwave of interviewing writers and writing puff pieces about them for the newspapers. They were instantly successful, as Blathwayt recorded decades later: On one Monday I was practically starving; on the following Monday the cheques had begun that delightful flow which they have never altogether ceased ever since. It was as though I had gone into an oil district and at once started a ‘gusher’ . . . never again, I suppose, certainly not within the working life of the young people of the present day, will such a golden era, journalistically speaking, present itself as presented itself to me.20

By 1900 the reader had a choice of well over 2000 monthly and weekly titles on the news-stands, and the capital supported more than a dozen daily newspapers. Collectively they consumed vast quantities of non-news material, and an army of freelancers supplied it. It is true that the competition was ferocious. Hopeful new arrivals were up against prodigies like Arthur St John Adcock, who boasted that he never had fewer than 20 manuscripts going around editors simultaneously, and never let a rejected piece lie on his table overnight. Nevertheless, the novelist and president of the Society of Authors, Walter Besant, saw plenty of openings in the New Journalism. The number of papers ‘is simply enormous; there seems no end to them’, he crowed. Some of the weekly penny papers had circulations in the millions, and all were vying to get the best fiction, the most striking articles. ‘They offer’, said Besant: a means of subsistence – not a mere pittance, but a handsome income – to hundreds of writers. Out of one office alone there is poured every week a mass of fiction representing as much bulk as an ordinary three-volume novel. The daily papers with their leading articles; the high-class weeklies, such as the Saturday Review, the Spectator, the Athenaeum, the Guardian, the Speaker, and a few others, with their leaders political and social and their reviews, give occupation to a large number of the best literary men and women, and the popular weeklies employ a much larger number of the rank and file.21 19 Lurline Stuart, Nineteenth-Century Australian Periodicals: An Annotated Bibliography, Hale & Iremonger, 1979, p. 2. 20 Raymond Blathwayt, Through Life and Round the World: Being the Story of My Life, E. P. Dutton, 1917, pp. 154, 157. 21 Walter Besant, ‘Literature as a Career’, The Forum, 13 (Aug. 1892), pp. 702–3.


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Besant was right. For a particular kind of Australian writer, the fragmented nature of the market permitted a lifestyle inconceivable at home. A good example is Frederic Manning, author of the war novel The Middle Parts of Fortune (1929). Scion of an affluent Sydney family, Manning left permanently as soon as he was able, in July 1903 when he was 21. His interests were almost exclusively in classical philosophy and literature. Unashamedly dilatory, and by temperament a fastidious aesthete, Manning lived an isolated life in a country cottage, reviewing for the Spectator and happily writing erudite essays for T. S. Eliot’s Criterion for a tiny audience, supplementing this with a small private income from home. It is hard to imagine anyone less fitted for the rough and tumble of antipodean literary life in the 1920s and 30s. As his biographer says, ‘Early and deliberately he had detached himself from his homeland . . . opting for an English identity and literary career suitable to that identity.’22 In fact, England was the only place he could have had a literary career. The state of affairs that nourished Manning lasted for about 50 years, until the combined effect of the Great Depression, radio, the cinema and glossy picture papers killed off many of the reviewing opportunities and the magazines that printed short fiction and light articles. Newspapers merged and merged again; long-familiar names like the Daily News vanished. The literary milieu contracted, then swelled out in a new shape. Clever young people who could manage a bright sentence stopped fraternising in the pubs of Fleet Street and went off instead to write film scenarios, start advertising agencies or join the ever-expanding staff of the BBC. While the good times lasted, however, there were plenty to give heed to Henry Lawson’s famous instruction of 1899 that his reader should ‘go steerage, stow away, swim, and seek London, Yankeeland, or Timbuktoo’ or else, failing that, ‘study elementary anatomy, especially as applies to the cranium, and then shoot himself carefully with the aid of a looking-glass’.23 Lawson himself took the first choice soon afterwards, though his suicide attempt after his return suggests that for him they were not mutually exclusive options. In fact many had already taken his advice to leave, and even more would do so later. It is not commonly appreciated just how severe a haemorrhage of its intelligentsia Australia suffered in the four decades or so around 1900, especially given its small population. A highly selective sampling of literary figures, broadly interpreted, of those who left permanently for Britain in the seven decades to 1950 includes: Haddon Chambers, dramatist, in 1882, aged 22; A. Patchett Martin, journalist, in 1883, aged 32; Ernest Buley, freelance journalist, aged 31, in 1900; Mary Gaunt, intrepid traveller–explorer, aged 40, in 1901; Winifred James, novelist and journalist, aged 29, in 1903; Alice Henry, feminist journalist, in 1905, aged 48; Albert Dorrington, novelist, in 1907, aged 33;

22 Jonathan Marwil, Frederic Manning: An Unfinished Life, Duke UP, 1988, p. 65. Manning did return to Australia twice, in 1925 and 1932, but left again with relief after short visits. 23 Henry Lawson, ‘ “Pursuing Literature” in Australia’, Bulletin, 19 (21 Jan. 1899), p. 2. Evidence that Lawson’s prescription was taken less than seriously at the Bulletin is suggested by the slightly mocking editorial heading, probably by Stephens: ‘Henry Lawson unburdens his soul’.


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Sir Frank Fox, imperialist author, in 1909, aged 34; Will Dyson, cartoonist, aged 30, in 1910; the journalist–novelist Helen Simpson, in 1913, aged 16; Spencer Brodney, journalist, in 1914, aged 31; Randolph Hughes, scholar of French literature, essayist and Nazi sympathiser, in 1915, aged 26; David Low, cartoonist, in 1919, aged 28; Chester Cobb, novelist, in 1921, aged 22; Dale Collins, novelist, in 1922, aged 25; Mary Fullerton (‘E’), poet, in 1922, aged 54; Pamela Travers, author of Mary Poppins, in 1924, aged 18; Jack McLaren, traveller–writer, in 1925, aged 41; Colin MacInnes, novelist, in 1931, aged 17; Alan Moorhead, historian, in 1936, aged 26; James Aldridge, foreign correspondent and children’s author, in 1939, aged 21; Alister Kershaw, poet and foreign correspondent, in 1947, aged 26; Russell Braddon, historian and biographer, in 1948, aged 28; Peter Porter, poet, in 1951, aged 22. This merely representative list could be extended easily. It does not include those who left for a British stay of years, but did return in time to continue their careers in Australia; nor those, like Godfrey Blunden, Catherine Duncan, Tasma and Doris Gentile, who were long-term residents in other countries.24 Nor does it include the many other talented folk on the periphery of literature, journalism and the media who would certainly have contributed something to the literary climate had they stayed. Helen Bourke has examined the motives of three distinguished academics who moved to North America in the 1920s as part of what was not yet called the brain drain, two of them ‘energetic combatants in controversy, provocative in style and sometimes mischievous in their wit’: too much so, for them to survive in Australia.25 Other similarly exuberant talents who were lost forever to England include Samuel Alexander, philosopher, author of the once-influential Space, Time and Deity (1920); Robert Lowe Hall, economist and literary patron; Grafton Elliot Smith, the anatomist and anthropologist; Norman Haire, doctor–journalist and sexologist;26 Vere Gordon Childe, archaeologist and popular prehistorian;27 Eric Partridge, lexicographer; and a host of others – singers, musicians, painters, scientists, academics, actors. There was then, as there still is, a question of terminology. Those who left are sometimes called exiles rather than expatriates, though the former term implies compulsion and also a continuing emotional bond to the land of their birth that some, and perhaps most, did not feel. Mary McCarthy once defined the expatriate, as distinct from the 24 The sample also excludes the permanent expatriates or long-term visitors mentioned elsewhere in this chapter. My thanks to Darryl Bennet of the ADB for writing search scripts which helped in forming a broad estimate of literary emigration to England in this period. 25 Helen Bourke, ‘Intellectuals for Export: Australia in the 1920s’ in S. L. Goldberg and F. B. Smith (eds), Australian Cultural History, CUP, 1988, p. 106. Herbert Heaton, an economist, left in 1925 and Thomas Taylor, a geographer, in 1928. Both had suffered badly from negative publicity about their views in Australia. 26 Dr Haire (1892–1952) was a controversial figure in both countries. He performed the useless Steinach operation on W. B. Yeats in 1934 to renew his virility. He did spend the war years in Sydney (1940–6), where he had a sex-advice column in Woman magazine, but he returned to England and died there. Haire also had theatrical interests. How far he was a conscious charlatan is unclear. 27 Childe, author of popular works in ancient history, was forced from an academic post at Sydney because of his pacifist views in 1918. His career was spent mostly in Edinburgh; he returned to retire in 1957 and committed suicide in the Blue Mountains the same year.


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exile, as one whose ‘main aim is never to go back to his native land or, failing that, to stay away as long as possible’, and that certainly meets most of our cases: that is to say, both those who stayed away for years but eventually returned, and those who became completely and permanently anglicised pretty much from the moment of arrival.28 Expatriation is voluntary; exile is not. In this sense, Australia had no writers-in-exile, even though some may have liked to dramatise themselves in that role. However, in practice the distinction is not so clear-cut. There were some semivoluntary exiles: those kept away by marital ties; those who could not afford the return fare; those who had failed and were ashamed to return; those who had burned their bridges and felt they had to stick it out. For a short time that eccentric polymath, adventurer, engineer and politician Arthur Lynch could not return for the excellent reason that he was in a British gaol, waiting to be hanged for treason.29 That is why Ian Mair invented the ingenious term ‘pomios’,30 to describe them, and why Miles Franklin called them ‘exodists’ in Cockatoos. Whatever label we give them, we are faced here with the flight of several dozen, at least, of the brightest and most creative minds that Australia produced over 70 years. Yet the loss was generally regarded with equanimity – when it was noticed at all. Just twice in this period influential voices were heard arguing that for the budding author the rush to London was a fool’s errand, which could only damage an emerging Australian literary culture. The first came at the end of the nationalistic 1890s, when A. G. Stephens advised his Bulletin contributors to ‘sit tight and write’, by citing examples of local writers who were making a good living without leaving; those writers, at least, who could supply what readers wanted. Never one to neglect an international comparison, Stephens asked: ‘How many writers in France have been so fortunate? They with their editions of 250 or 500, when they have gained a world-wide reputation for original power and refined art!’ Even more dramatically, he claimed that Ethel Turner, the author of Seven Little Australians (1894), which sold 20 000 copies in Australia, worked for an hour a day, completed one book a year, and yet earned a sum ‘which many a barrister in his tenth year sighs after vainly’.31 By the 1920s, when he was writing, Stephens could have pointed to other cases. Edward Dyson, an extreme exception to the general rule, had carved out a career as Australia’s best-paid freelance author–journalist, making a phenomenal £600–700 a year by dint of his machine-like productivity. Jeannie (Mrs Aeneas) Gunn published her bush tale We of the Never-Never (1908) in London without ever leaving the country, but still sold half a million copies or more. A. B. 28 Mary McCarthy, ‘Exiles, Expatriates and Internal Emigr´es’, Listener, 86 (25 Nov. 1971), p. 706. 29 Lynch had fought on the wrong side in the Boer War. Author of about 30 books, including The Case Against Einstein (1932), he recounts in My Life Story how he lived for a fortnight on two shillings while trying to break into journalism. Later he wrote a column for the Evening News called ‘The Seamy Side’. 30 That is (presumably), ‘pommy Aussies permanently overseas’. 31 A. G. Stephens, ‘Australian Literature III’ [1921], reprinted in Leon Cantrell (ed.), A. G. Stephens: Selected Writings, A&R, 1977, pp. 94, 95. Turner (d. 1958) was in fact married to a barrister and later judge.


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Banjo Paterson (d.1941) had made bush balladry pay for a 40 000-acre property near Yass. But such cases were wildly unrepresentative, and for a very long time it remained almost impossible for any independent writer to make a decent living. There is a heavy irony in the fact that Stephens himself, the most influential literary editor the country has ever had, never knew a moment’s security, being employed by the week on a wage at best half that of the Bulletin’s head cartoonist.32 No-one took much notice of Stephens. His opinion that London is a ‘filthy hole’, the air foul and the climate ‘vile, with variations’, the men ‘beasts of burden’ and the women ‘beasts of pleasure’ sounded like mere rant. When he told the Bulletin airily that ‘Apart from cash, there is no profit in “going to London” ’, the first phrase probably lost the case for most of his readers.33 If anything, the pace of expatriation seemed to increase in the period between the Armistice and the onset of the Great Depression. These were the inter-war years, the so-called dry years, when Australia was even more of a cultural desert than it had been in the much-mythologised 1890s. Writers, especially women, seemed to put about as much practical energy into engineering their escape as they put into their writing. Later, in the mid-1930s, when neo-nationalism was raising a flurry of interest, the editor–critic P. R. Stephensen published his influential long essay The Foundations of Culture in Australia, remarkable for its general air of anglophobic indignation and chauvinism. Stephensen unleashed his wit against ‘a large colony of young Australian writers and artists, in Chelsea or Bloomsbury, aspiring to set the Thames on fire, because the Yarra and the Parramatta seemed too damp’. ‘What’s the matter with them all?’ cried Stephensen, succumbing to italics. ‘The shirkers, they have cleared out, funked their job . . .. From a national point of view our e´ migr´es may be written off as a dead loss.’34 Unlike his predecessor, Stephensen did not try to prove that a good living might be made locally if only one had talent and worked hard enough. He makes it a purely moral issue: to leave is disloyal, even cultural treason. But despite Stephensen’s fulminations, the exodus of ‘the shirkers’ continued. For a century or more, the one-way ticket to Britain – dreaming of it, acquiring it, and finally using it – is a great theme in the socio-economics of Australian authorship. Remarkably, in one case, even the government itself acceded to the idea that the best aid Australia might give to an author was to disburse public money so he could get out of the country for good. In 1938, Vernon Knowles, who had enjoyed a minor success in London with some fantastical tales, but who had returned to Adelaide destitute, was given the large lump sum of £60 to go back to London and stay there. Knowles remains

32 A. G. Stephens, ‘Bulletin Diary. Edited by Leon Cantrell’ in Bruce Bennett, ed. Cross Currents: Magazines and Newspapers in Australian Literature, Longman Cheshire, 1981, p. 36. 33 A. G. Stephens, ‘The Sweet Uses of London: Another View’, Bulletin, 22 October 1903, p. 2. Italics added. 34 P. R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia: An Essay towards National Self Respect, A&R, 1986, pp. 123–4.


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the unique case of a reverse remittance-man; he died in England 30 years later having written nothing else of substance.35

Representing London No city . . . could equal the London of Hogarth and Rowlandson, London of Dickens and Fielding, London from whence Chaucer had ridden through the tunnel of the Bridge’s stalls to Southwark that merry April day, over five hundred years ago! And now, at last, here was I in the enchanted city.36

Representations of London have been mediated for so long by books, newspapers, magazines and, eventually, film and television, that the city, on a first inspection anyway, tends to be ‘read’ as a dictionary of quotations. It has been well said that, above all other cities, London is not just ‘a place’; it also ‘takes place’ as it is defined and redefined in the countless versions of it over many centuries. And the bounds between the physical city and its imaginative reworkings are indefinite and permeable.37 Novels have always played a large part in this mediation. From the mid-1890s onward there were nearly as many novels being published in Britain as there were books of every other type combined, and by the 1920s a quarter of Britain’s entire exportation of books was shipped to Australia, and long continued to be so.38 Every kind of visitor saw London through the prism of fiction. For the poet and journalist J. H. Abbott, ‘Leicester Square’ meant not the grimy reality of 1905, but the fields where two aristocrats duelled (in Thackeray’s Henry Esmond ). Even for Henry Lawson, not particularly well-educated, the City meant not the centre of imperial trade, but rather the place where the coach set down Mr Pecksniff’s family when they come to town in Martin Chuzzlewit.39 It was not just literary visitors, as Richard White has shown. Many an amateur diarist could find a snippet of English poetry appropriate to the bit of countryside they were traversing.40 For those who actually gained the much-desired experience, immediate reactions spanned a full spectrum of feeling and expression. Since England is the mother country it takes no great cultural psychoanalyst to see the oscillation of feeling, the attraction 35 Frank Moorhouse, ‘A Balance between Sense and Sensibility’, Australian, 4 Apr. 2007, gives a good account of this remarkable case: . 36 Lindsay, I’d Live the Same Life Over, p. 163. 37 Julian Wolfreys, Writing London: The Trace of the Urban Text from Blake to Dickens, Macmillan, 1998, and Joseph McLaughlin, Writing the Urban Jungle: Reading Empire in London from Doyle to Eliot, UP of Virginia, 2000, develop this idea at length. 38 E.g. Simon Eliot’s Fig. 26 shows that 31% of published titles were fiction over the period 1890–9, while the next three named categories did not exceed 12% each. The proportion of British books imported fell to one-eighth during the Depression years, but was up to a quarter again by 1950: see his Some Patterns and Trends in British Publishing 1800–1919, Bibliographical Society, 1994, p. 14; Richard White, Inventing Australia: Images and Identity, 1688–1980, A&U, 1981, p. 62; Ian Reid, ‘Publishing, Fiction-Writers and Periodicals in the 1930s’ in Bennett, Cross Currents, p. 115. 39 Henry Lawson, ‘Letters to Jack Cornstalk. From an Australian in London. London, September, 1900’, Argosy, 72 (Sept.–Dec. 1900), p. 219. 40 White, ‘Bluebells and Fogtown’, p. 48.


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and the repulsion, as an oedipal conflict. In the melodramatic poem ‘When London Calls’ by Victor Daley, the city is personified as both enticer and ogress, a tempter for the (male) talented and a seducer of (male) souls: She sits beside the ship-choked Thames With Sphinx-like lips apart – Mistress of many diadems – Death in her heart!41

For Miles Franklin’s Ignez Milford, stuck miserably on a Goulburn farm, London appears as a ‘mart for all outstanding gifts whether in the fields of science, art, learning, female pulchritude, or sport’. It is a ‘big spider’ which has ‘tentacles enveloping the globe, [and] sucked in everything of worth or otherwise desirable’.42 The metaphors are muddled, but the yearning is plain. The spider-web analogy was worked out better by the journalist Arthur Adams, who after a couple of years spent on hack journalism produced London Streets, a set of melodramatic poetic vignettes where England is symbolised as ‘the Web’ with at its centre ‘silent and full-fed, / A spider, old, contemplative and wise!’: Ah, far from England float those filaments; Weaving old wizardry they touch and claim Tribute of souls from unseen continents! In that Great Greyness prisoners they lie. There, drawn by the great lure of that great name, My alien heart, shrivelled and long sucked dry!43

Ending up sucked dry in London’s grey web was certainly a fate to be avoided; but, then, there was Adams’ ‘old wizardry’ to compensate. For there was the sheer romance of the place. Like other great cities, but more so than any other, London could be a Camelot, a Mecca, a Promised Land, a City of Dreadful Night (or Delight). Going there could be an Embarkation for Cythera: a site of sexual initiation or transformation. London with its anonymous multitudes could provide a hideout for transgressive sexuality, especially promiscuity, homosexuality and adultery, if one were discreet.44 As another immigrant, Joseph Conrad, puts it in The Secret Agent (1907) – and he is obviously drawing a contrast with Australia – London was a ‘monstrous town more populous than some continents’ where there was room for any story, depth for any passion, darkness enough to bury any life.45 For those not impressed by urban romance, London might simply be an acceptable synonym for escape: escape from a marriage, from respectability, from 41 Victor Daley, ‘When London Calls’, Bulletin, 21 (8 Dec. 1900), p. 15. Daley took his own warning to heart and never left Australia. 42 Miles Franklin [as Brent of Bin Bin], Cockatoos: A Story of Youth and Exodists, A&R, 1954, p. 63. 43 Arthur Henry Adams, London Streets, T. N. Foulis, 1906, p. 7. 44 White, ‘Bluebells and Fogtown’, p. 45. Watteau’s painting, and a poem by Kenneth Slessor, empowered Stead’s imagination, as Hazel Rowley shows in Christina Stead: A Biography, Secker & Warburg, 1993, p. 69. 45 ‘Author’s Note’ in Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale, ed. John Lyon, OUP, 2004, p. 231.


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oppressive parents, from stultifying provinciality, or simply from the fear of being left anchored in the cove of one’s birth, ‘like a rowboat whose owner has died’.46 Despite their imaginative familiarity with the place, most young writers found London took some getting used to. It took time to adjust to the rampant poverty and the shameless, flaring vulgarity of the rich. Though it did grow somewhat less flagrant with the passing decades, this disparity was a matter of appalled comment, expressed in remarkably similar terms over a century and a half, from observers of every political stripe and none. In 1865, in one of the earliest impressionistic essays, the novelist and sociologist Catherine Helen Spence, who at the age of 40 made a visit after 25 years away, sounded the first indignant chord: The contrast between the wealth and the poverty of England strikes [a visitor] with a strange feeling of awe when he compares the hideous slums of London with the miles of streets in which no one can live on an income of less than a thousand, two thousand, five thousand pounds a year.47

Others were more vexed than moved by the sheer apathy of the underclass. Thirty years after Spence, A. G. Stephens offered the wild generalisation that the British workman was happy with his brutish lot: ‘Give him meat and drink, a wife to kick, and a little money for cards or so-called “sport,” and all the fine democratic ideals may go hang.’48 Some 40 years later still, Arthur Adams was sadder about the apathy of the poor. ‘Life for the poor is bitter: but there are no revolutionaries among the poor of London’, he reported. ‘They accept their lot. They are soddenly content.’49 But such initial impressions, no matter how strong, soon dwindled into acceptance. Jack Lindsay was briefly disgusted on his arrival by the ugliness and poverty. We had never imagined that men could live in such a dwarfed and sootied world . . . . The impact of London so depressed us that we did not dare to speak of it for days; above all we felt fooled and humiliated. To have come so far for this . . . along the kerbs were puffy-faced tarts with coats pulled tight round their fat legs.

But soon he acquired an amazingly exotic girlfriend and was buoyed up by an acquaintance with the likes of Nina Hamnett, D. B. Wyndham Lewis, Peter Warlock, Augustus John and the Sitwells, something which he recorded with considerable satisfaction. ‘I sat back, enjoying the scene from a remote distance, over a bellyful of beer. “At last I have found my proper Hell,” I told myself. “Now I am at home.” ’50 Though this comment comes barely halfway through his autobiography, Australia vanishes forthwith, never to reappear. The pull of London was too strong for its less attractive features to figure largely. Miles Franklin did choose to go to Chicago at first, possibly because, like one 46 Teresa Hawkins’ fear, in Stead, For Love Alone, pp. 284–5. 47 Catherine Helen Spence, ‘An Australian’s Impressions of England’, Cornhill Magazine, 13 (Jan. 1866), p. 111. 48 A. G. Stephens, A Queenslander’s Travel Notes, Edwards, Dunlop, 1894, p. 152. 49 Arthur Henry Adams, ‘A Look at London’, Bulletin, 50 (29 May 1929), p. 55. 50 Jack Lindsay, Life Rarely Tells: An Autobiography in Three Volumes, Penguin, 1982, pp. 504, 519.


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of her heroines, she had heard that America was a place of opportunity, while ‘the beggary of London under its thin crust of paraded luxury and culture and snobbery was a nightmare’.51 But these words were written long after she had moved to London herself. The city had proven irresistible. There were other immediate reactions. Since the national status of Australians in England was ambiguous, suffering from an identity crisis was common, and there were various ways of dealing with it. In Mary Marlowe’s Kangaroos in King’s Land (1917), a cheerful account of its young author’s attempt to penetrate the theatrical world, three struggling actress–singers confront the issue of self-definition as soon as they arrive. Pert Judy Mason declines to be labelled ‘a Colonial’ and puts a would-be employer right: ‘I was brought up to think myself an Englishwoman, we all are, you know, but you soon put me in my place when I came over here.’ ‘Really? How do you mean?’ ‘Oh! I am a “foreigner” or “from abroad”, or “not English”. So now I claim a title of my own. If I am not English I must be something, so obviously I am an Australian.’ ‘Might I not mistake that for an aboriginal?’ ‘I think not. When you speak of Americans, you don’t mean Red Indians.’52

Another way of ensuring self-definition was to adopt a pose of pugnacious provinciality, the cultural cringe inverted, which was by no means restricted to the vulgar tourist. During his stay Henry Lawson wrote a few nondescript essays on his impressions, which are dreadful in their pointlessly aggressive nil admirari tone, especially as he was writing for the middle-brow Argosy magazine. The Thames is just a larger Yarra; the famed docks are ‘simply big dam arrangements of masonry’; the Bank of England would be better for a scrape down and a couple of coats of stone-colour; the Tube is ‘about as hot as the centre of Bulli Tunnel, near Sydney, and a good deal dirtier’; St Paul’s ‘does not appear much more imposing than a big corrugated iron shed’.53 Such Bazza McKenzie-like utterances must have confirmed the readers’ worst prejudices about philistine Australians. No wonder this drivel horrified his Bulletin editor, who called it ‘barely second-rate journal-work, destitute of life or power’.54 Yet another, less aggressive way of inverting the cringe was to construct a negative vision of London – cold, dirty and riddled with class divisions – through which could be discerned a new Britannia, warm, egalitarian and progressive. It gave visitors the moral authority, or rather the smug licence, it has been wittily said, ‘to run a superior 51 Franklin, Cockatoos, p. 249. 52 Mary Marlowe, Kangaroos in King’s Land: Being the Adventures of Four Australian Girls in England, Simpkin Marshall, 1917, p. 121. It is set around 1910. 53 Lawson, ‘Letters to Jack Cornstalk’, pp. 216–19, and ‘Letters to Jack Cornstalk: II. From an Australian in London. England, December 1900’, Argosy, 73 (Jan.–Feb 1901), p. 77. 54 A. G. Stephens, ‘Lawson’s Last Book – A Temporary Adjustment’ [1901] reprinted in Cantrell (ed.), A. G. Stephens, p. 232.


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finger through the dust on a foreign window sill’.55 This sort of horrified complacency typifies Louise Mack’s Australian Girl in London: ‘Here came men and women crooked all to one side or the other. It was terrible to me. Coming from my fair young country it seemed to me that these men and women, whom nobody even turned to glance at, were shouting aloud, “Decay, decay!” ’56 The belief that British life was falling into decadence had a long currency, from the late-Victorian years right through to the 1930s. P. R. Stephensen, the prime neo-nationalist (and later quasi-fascist), thought the novels of Huxley, Lawrence and Waugh proved it. Another version of that kind of response was to imaginatively refashion the capital altogether – or to destroy it. Catherine Spence’s A Week in the Future is a utopia where the heroine is transported from the Adelaide of 1888 to the London of 1988, where she finds a city transformed from the place Spence herself visited in 1865–6. Miraculously, the population has fallen to just one million, and the horse has given way to the bicycle, but somehow its status remains intact. ‘The mother-city of the van had not lost her historic glory through throwing off her surplus population.’57 Presumably the remainder has given up reproduction or the missing five millions have departed voluntarily for the colonies. In general, though, the fact is that, although going to England might require unusual determination, once there, the actual experience of ‘being in’ England produced little that is interestingly analytical (as opposed to descriptive). England was simply too familiar; London life, at least, ‘known’ long before the train from the Liverpool docks pulled in at Euston. This is responsible for the curiously vapid and peevish tone of the reflections of most visitors, even relatively sophisticated ones. Their aperc¸us rarely rise above the level of comparing the Bay of Naples to Sydney Harbour (to the former’s disadvantage, naturally), the warmth of the beer, or the charge levied by even the best hotels to fill a bathtub.58 Miles Franklin whinged about the wattle in the flower shops being poor stuff from France, with the balls about half the usual size.59 That subtle observer H. H. Richardson, whose Richard Mahony trilogy offers the best rendition in fiction of the contradictory attitudes of colonists returning to England, gets a laugh out of Mary Mahony’s ingenuous response to her first sight of the green fields of Kent: ‘With an exclamation of pleasure she cried: “Oh, Richard – how pretty! How . . . how tidy! It looks like . . . like” – she hesitated, searching her memory for the trimmest spot she knew; and ended – “doesn’t it? . . . just like the Melbourne Botanic Gardens.” ’60 55 Ros Pesman et al., The Oxford Book of Australian Travel Writing, OUP, 1996, p. xv. 56 Mack, Australian Girl, pp. 140–1. 57 Catherine Helen Spence, A Week in the Future, ed. Lesley Durrell Ljungdahl, Hale & Iremonger, 1987, p. 115. Spence was surely influenced by Richard Jefferies’ demolition-fantasy After London (1885). The idea of cutting Britain down to size was attractive to a certain Australian mentality. P. R. Stephensen thought the populations of the two countries might be equally balanced at 20 million each by the year 2000, and that ‘Nothing less than a new and exclusive industrial invention, comparable with the steam engine’ could maintain Britain’s population at 45 million, the figure current in 1935: Foundations of Culture, p. 54. 58 ‘Bathing in London is a hobby, and often an expensive one. That the English are a clean nation is the first illusion the visitor loses’: Marlowe, Kangaroos in King’s Land, p. 37. 59 Franklin, letter, 1 Mar. 1917, in Roe (ed.), Congenials, vol. I, p. 117. 60 Richardson, Fortunes of Richard Mahony, p. 349.


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Yet Richardson herself offers the trite observation in her autobiography that ‘many a time during those first weeks did I wish myself home again, back in a land which, whatever its defects, was at least bright and sunny, and clean. Here, even when there was no fog, it never seemed to be properly day.’61 When she made this mundane observation in the late 1940s, Richardson had been an expatriate for 50 years. One looks in vain for anything from Australian writers with the acuity of Hippolyte Taine’s Notes on England, still less Henry James’ essays like ‘The Suburbs of London’. How could it have been otherwise? No-one who was not an Anglo-Celt came from Australia to inspect the strange British Isles; for all those who did come, English institutions were entirely familiar, the culture well understood, as least as mediated through literature; the practicalities of life offered no piquant contrasts. Since nearly all writers came of well-educated bourgeois stock, they had been steeped in English history and literature from birth. The upper-class education received by Martin Boyd was so focused on the British Isles that as a child he was embarrassed to discover the word ‘history’ encompassed events that had happened in France as well.62 For the American anglophile Henry James, England was an intriguingly foreign country, which sparked his creativity at first sight. But for Australians it had been different right from first settlement. As K. S. Inglis puts it, emigrants to Australia arrived at the least unfamiliar of the new Britains. The inverse was no less true.

Drawing off the rich cream: succeeding and failing in England Every one of any note born to us, by the centralisation attendant upon imperialism is drawn off to London like the rich cream leaving only the plain milk beneath.63

The rich cream of Miles Franklin’s simile in some cases maintained its sweetly luscious quality in England, but in others it quickly soured. The penalty of failure could be severe indeed, and it was not much comfort having all the rights of a British subject when they granted only the right to sink into the gutter or the right to a pauper’s funeral. From the earliest days there were plenty of salutary stories about those who made the trip but failed to make a reputation, or even, in some cases, failed to keep body and soul together at all. One casualty was the poet–nurse Grace Jennings Carmichael. She died in 1904 aged 36, and her three young sons were despatched to a workhouse from which, after an outcry, they were eventually retrieved by private subscription. The grim lesson of her situation was well taken. Henry Lawson, not surprisingly, identified with her fate, and wrote a poem about her after his own dismal return, describing how ‘A 61 Henry Handel Richardson, Myself when Young. Together with an Essay on the Art of Henry Handel Richardson by J. G. Robertson, Heinemann, 1948, p. 87. 62 Martin Boyd, Day of My Delight: An Anglo-Australian Memoir, Penguin, 1986, p. 17. 63 Franklin, letter, 6 May 1929, in Roe (ed.), Congenials,vol. I, p. 217.


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lonely woman, fought alone / The bitter fight in London town!’64 Decades later, the authorial voice in Cockatoos (speaking from Miles Franklin’s own experience) struck a conspiratorial note with the warning of deliberate censorship: ‘The facts about those who starved in the Big Smoke until the hat went round to generous compatriots to send them home was not in the Sydney newspapers and did not weigh against the successes.’65 Those who were not put off before the trip soon heard dismal warnings on arrival. In 1906 J. F. Dwyer, a would-be thriller writer, met a grizzled veteran in a pub who told him that the streets of London were cemented with the heart’s blood of men who had come to write. He advised Dwyer to take the next ship home, dropping his stories overboard en route for the mermaids to read. This anecdote appears in Dwyer’s Leg-Irons on Wings, an example of the literature of the ‘struggle in London’, a distinct genre in the years after Federation and still not extinct today. It takes the form of novels, semi-fictional and semi-autobiographical in varying proportions, or else semi-fictionalised memoirs, and there are numerous examples, not all of them published. Some are brightly written, breezy narratives produced by young people tasting freedom and adventure, and prepared to struggle to force the metropolis to yield them a living, but even the breeziest can strike a dismal note: What chance have you, a wretched, miserable, terrified atom, in this pitiless race? Who, with his own fortune to engineer, is going to stop and listen to your weak puling cry for recognition – much less lend you a hand? Who cares whether you are writing a twopenny-ha’penny book and can’t get on with it for want of air? You are only of use if you are a marketable quantity. You can’t be a marketable quantity unless you keep sane, and how can you hope to keep sane in this screaming whirlpool? I say to myself, ‘Betty, my girl, this is not the way to get your foot on the neck of it. Range yourself.’ But it is no use. I want to get out of this great brick box before the lid closes down completely. The winter is coming on, and I, who dread the cold so horribly, and have had three months of it at the beginning of the year – not the worse three months either – feel that half-a-year of it on end in the top flat of newly-built mansions, with no companion but the wind moaning up the staircase, will finish everything.66

Much more desperate than this were the struggles of the journalist J. H. Abbott, if his Letters from Queer Street (1908) is even fractionally autobiographical. Written with an escalating sense of despair to a friend in Sydney, the letters of John Mason, an unemployed and apparently unemployable journalist, offer sombre vignettes of downand-out life in London. They are full of curious lore, such as how one can enjoy a five-course dinner for a few pence by moving from one street-barrow to another. In the end Mason dies, with a last plea – surely the weirdest plea heard in life or literature from an expatriate: 64 Henry Lawson, Skyline Riders and Other Verses (1910); reprinted in Collected Verse, vol. II, pp. 290–1. 65 Franklin, Cockatoos, pp. 214–15. Cockatoos was written in 1927, though not published until 1954. 66 James, Bachelor Betty, p. 152.


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They’ll plant me in some suburban cemetery near London. I’ll rot. Most of my chemical constituents will have been added to the soil of England by the time you would be able to do what I ask; but, nevertheless, there would be some of me left, if only bones. Now, I would like you, old boy, to have my bones dug up and planted ‘on the other side’. I want, if I can, to do a little ‘daisy-growing’ in my own country. Pack my skeleton in a gin-case if you like, and chuck it down an empty mine-shaft; but, if you can, do see to it that I may decompose ultimately into Australian soil.67

The autobiography of Philip Lindsay gives a colourful picture of what must have been, in the 1920s, the experience of quite a few would-be writers in London who are now lost to history: a ramshackle, harum-scarum vie de Boh`eme, redeemed by friends – mostly themselves penny-a-line scribblers – always ready with a shakedown bed, a beer and a loan. In his early days Lindsay outdid even the most miserable hack of George Gissing’s New Grub Street by resorting to the doss-house in the crypt of St Martin’s church. Even in England, ambitious Australians soon discovered, few writers could prosper materially by adhering to the highest standards of ‘art’ literature then associated with modernism. Those who pursued their own aesthetic ideals, like H. H. Richardson, enjoyed a subsidy of one kind or another, from a spouse or a private income (like Woolf and James) or moneyed patrons (like Joyce), or else were eventually forced to compromise (as Conrad did) by going downmarket or into journalism. Even after Ultima Thule surprisingly sold 100 000 copies in America, Richardson still assessed her average earnings over a lifetime at one shilling a week, and admitted she would have starved without her husband’s support. There was for many years simply no demand for the controversial or challenging, especially in the lucrative magazine short-story market. Lawson reported in 1902, after his return, that ‘simple domestic yarns and true sketches of the better sides of human nature, of man, woman and child nature, go best now. They don’t want the other man’s wife in England – she’s done.’ (The last sentence alludes to the New Woman fictions, some of which had small Australian associations, which were now out of favour.)68 Though this hardly squares with Lawson’s own practice in London – a few of the Joe Wilson stories are among his most subtle work – it was a shrewd assessment. Fifteen years later Vance Palmer was supplying this same kind of product, on demand, even to A. R. Orage’s modernist New Age magazine. Palmer did well because he was versatile enough to meet many markets. He discovered when he arrived in 1905 that ‘there were so many papers that almost any literate article or story could find a home if it were sent round often enough’.69 But it was not quite as simple 67 John Henry Macartney Abbott, Letters from Queer Street: Being Some of the Correspondence of the Late Mr John Martin, A. & C. Black, p. 317. An ‘editor’s note’ says ‘John Mason was found leaning over the last unfinished sheet of this letter. He lies in Waverley Cemetery, Sydney.’ 68 Lawson, Collected Prose, vol. II, p. 167. George Egerton (i.e. Mary Chevalita Dunne), author of the sexually radical story-collections Keynotes (1893) and Discords (1894), was born in Melbourne in 1859. The author of the equally daring A Yellow Aster (1894), ‘Iota’ (Kathleen Caffyn, 1852–1926) lived in Australia, 1880–92. Both died in Britain. 69 Vance Palmer, ‘Literary England Today’ reprinted in H. P. Heseltine (ed.), Intimate Portraits and other Pieces: Essays and Articles, Cheshire, 1969, p. 77.


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as that: at the very least, one needed stamina. Palmer himself claimed that he wrote 81 short stories in his first nine months in London, plus many articles. Not all were as fortunate, or as talented. Naturally the failures have left little trace of their trials, though one unpublished account survives of a man who with heroic persistence fought to make his mark for five years before giving up and returning.70 Even journalists, who generally were better received, could have a rough time when they had to go cold-calling in Fleet Street: Above all, there is something about the buildings that tells you what a mere atom you are. Office upon office looks down on you. You gaze upwards from storey to storey. To think of making an impression on them! At every higher flight you lose so much of your courage. They steal from you all your need for your battle. They dissipate your will. They weaken your intention. They convince you of your unimportance. You arrive at your destination in wonder at your coming. Why are you here? What do you seek? Work? A chance? A hearing? Why should you expect any of these? Who are you? No one. What are you worth? Nothing. Who wants you? Nobody.71

But London was good to Louise Mack, once she had swallowed her initial ambitions and entered ‘the great wild land of serial fiction’,72 or, to put it mundanely, had found work with the Harmsworth press scribbling romantic tales. She charmed the editor W. T. Stead, who had an eye for a pretty face, just as she had aroused the lust of A. G. Stephens at home.73 She attended Stead’s parties and was soon making better money than all her ex-colleagues on the Bulletin put together. She wrote ecstatic doggerel about her new life for unappreciative readers back in Sydney, one of whom wrote sourly that her ex-colleague was still showing the imagination useful for a hack scribbling storyettes. Barbara Baynton said scornfully that Mack’s idea of a good line, in cobbling together a serial for the Daily Mail, was this sort of thing: ‘Where had she left her gold pen, with its heavily jewelled handle?’74 For a few expatriate novelists who were willing and able to meet a popular market, the rewards could be princely. One of the first was Fergus Hume, whose huge success of 1886, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, sold 100 000 copies in two print runs in the Australian market, and more than half a million via its London publisher, Jarrold. (Hume gained nothing at once as he had sold the rights for an absurd £50.) Taking the hint about where his future fortunes lay, Hume moved to London in 1888 and wrote another 70 His MS account covers the period 1906–11 and is summarised in Gavin Souter, Lion and Kangaroo: The Initiation of Australia, 1901–1919, Collins, 1976, pp. 120–7. 71 Mack, Australian Girl, pp. 225–6. 72 Quoted in Nancy Phelan, The Romantic Lives of Louise Mack, UQP, 1991, p. 120. 73 He confided to his diary in 1896 that she gave signs of needing ‘a man who bruised, crushed, thrashed her’: A. G. Stephens, ‘Bulletin Diary’, p. 53. He probably pursued her during his London visit in mid-1902. 74 Quoted in Penne Hackforth-Jones, Barbara Baynton: Between Two Worlds, Penguin, 1989, p. 111, citing Baynton’s address to the Writers’ Union, ‘England and the Australian Writer’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July 1911.


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100 or more novels; none matched his first success, but he made a comfortable living. Doubtless his success gave heart to others who fancied themselves capable of pumping out popular fiction. After he arrived in England in 1894, Guy Boothby buckled down to fiction manufacture on a grand scale, setting himself the goal of 6000 words a day. Despite dying at 37, Boothby produced more than 50 novels, the most popular being the Dr Nikola series. His motto of ‘I give the reading public what they want . . . in return my readers give me what I want’ generated an income of up to £20 000 a year. It was a long way from his former job as secretary to the mayor of Adelaide. Equally successful was another Adelaide transplant, Alice Rosman, who moved to London in 1911, turned herself into a full-time romantic novelist in her 40s, gained an immense international readership, and became the grande dame of a Bloomsbury salon. Rosa Praed had, years earlier, gained a similar place in top literary, occult and spiritualist circles with her own Anglo-Australian romances, associating with the likes of Sir Richard Burton, G. A. Sala, Rider Haggard, Browning and Andrew Lang. Other kinds of rewards were possible. The poet Anna Wickham left in 1905 to study singing, briefly had an international reputation and became the intimate of David Garnett, D. H. Lawrence, Harold Munro and Malcolm Lowry. The artist Stella Bowen left Adelaide in 1914 as an innocent young woman to study painting, but when she became the partner of the novelist Ford Madox Ford she moved in quite a different sphere. For nine years, first in rural England and then for a period in 1920s Paris that she herself called ‘playtime’, she associated with Joyce, Hemingway, Pound, Stein and other luminaries of that legendary time. Playtime lasted right up to the dreadful moment at the end of the 1920s when ‘I opened my Herald Tribune to see in the right hand corner, “£1 sterling = frs. 103” . . . I knew that I was ruined.’75 Actually this was an exaggeration, but it was certainly the end of the idyll, though it was England she returned to, not Australia. For Wickham and Bowen, as for Christina Stead (who committed the ultimate clich´e of running off to Paris in 1929 with a married businessman), cocking a snook at notions of female respectability led to a life in the cosmopolitan literary world much more interesting than they could possibly have known at home. Yet another kind of success is that enjoyed by Vance and Nellie Palmer – biographers, critics, social commentators – who were for 30 years the best literary entrepreneurs and arbiters of taste of the period. They were in England, together or separately, in 1905, 1910, 1914, 1918, 1931, 1935, and 1955, for periods of up to two years at a time. What is most impressive is that their visits were always purposeful. Theirs were no quick, touristic trips, but equally there was no question of their staying on. On each occasion they focused on the task of using the experience as a means of reflecting on their Australian cultural identity. They admired the sense of continuity in British literary life, of each successive generation absorbing and building on its predecessors. But they refused to be intimidated by it. 75 Stella Bowen, Drawn from Life, Virago, 1984, p. 191.


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The Palmers were not the first to see their trips as being, essentially, raiding expeditions. Jack Lindsay had the same idea, originally, when he arrived in 1926. He persuaded himself that he was there just temporarily, ‘to get to know something of the literary scene and have a couple of books published, and then return to Australia where the Renascence was scheduled’.76 In his case, though, the ‘web’ got him, though he was certainly not sucked dry by the London spider: his productivity was legendary. But the Palmers did not allow that to happen to them. Of course, these ambitions only emerged gradually. On his first visit in 1905, the young Vance Palmer served the same kind of mournful apprenticeship in turn-of-thecentury London as many another: those days held little for me but memories of dreary hack-work carried on far into the night, the sound of rejected manuscripts dropping in through the downstairs door, and the depressing smell of cocoa boiled on a tiny petrol-stove . . . my fixed image of London was of a solitary attic and the naphtha-flares of fruit-barrows reflected in the slush of Theobald’s Road.77

But in Palmer’s case this period did not last long: the manuscripts stopped bouncing back and he was soon hobnobbing with the likes of G. K. Chesterton, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Frank Harris, A. R. Orage and T. E. Hulme. The Palmers’ stay in 1935–6 is the best documented, thanks to Nettie Palmer’s journal Fourteen Years. The London section starts on 4 July 1935, when she was 50. She was living in Bloomsbury, in a comfortable way of life, with an easy entr´ee to any of the literary names she wanted to interview: Mulk Raj Anand, Walter Turner, Rebecca West, Havelock Ellis, F. R. Leavis. Nettie is revealed as a bit of a tuft-hunter, which some of them did not like. H. H. Richardson found her bossy and full of hard little nuggets of fact. But the journal shows she had a gift for noticing and recording the salient detail, and her own lack of competitive feeling means she is always unenvious and sympathetic. Though she offers few generalisations, we are aware that this is not just superior literary gossip. She is asking, with more unabashed cultural egotism than anyone before, what England could do for her, as an Australian with a clear nationalistic agenda, rather than vice versa. In doing that, neither of the Palmers was unsympathetic to the draw of London. Speaking of Helen Simpson and Jack Lindsay in 1937, in the wake of Stephensen’s splenetic attack, Vance Palmer asked what right one had to ask clever people to stay here; for ‘what was there in this dusty country, where the chief events were cricket matches and elections, for an imaginative writer to take seriously? Was it worth bringing one’s art to a subtle perfection for a people mainly interested in the personalities of third-rate politicians, tennis-players, successful real-estate salesmen?’78 But he concluded, from 76 Jack Lindsay, Life Rarely Tells, p. 489. 77 Palmer, Intimate Portraits, p. 47. He is writing here of his first visit in 1905. 78 Vance Palmer, ‘Australian Writers Abroad’, Bulletin, 58 (13 Jan. 1937), p. 2.


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his own experience, that the flight to London was no panacea for Mack’s ‘half-pasttwo-in-the-afternoon’ feeling. In other words, the Palmers confronted head-on what has been called the Archibald paradox: the centre of the dominant culture might be Elsewhere; but, unless one bails out altogether, the task of participating credibly in it must necessarily be conducted Here.79 And its proponents, like the Palmers, had to be internationalists and nationalists at once. While in London the Palmers, like e´ migr´es everywhere, tended to consort with their like-minded compeers. Long predating the Kangaroo Valley of a later era, the largest was that clustered around the officers of the British-Australasian weekly paper. Founded in 1884 to supply news to investors, expatriates and intending emigrants, it lasted under various names almost to the end of our period. In its heyday, under the editorship (1908–42) of Charles Chomley, it was conveniently located near or inside Australia House, and its contributors included Will Dyson, Vance Palmer, Katharine Prichard, Helen Simpson and Martin Boyd. They earned Baynton’s wonderfully cutting label of ‘Dingo Dell’ – meaning those who played out the role of the ‘professional Australian’ overseas. (Editorially, despite its readership and location, the British-Australian took a caustic view of those seeking fame overseas: ‘recognition in Europe is very hardly won, and . . . the vast majority who come to try for it only remain to lament their folly’, is one of many warnings it issued.)80 Early in the century there was another Dingo Dell of journalists gathered around the Pall Mall Gazette, headed by Arthur Patchett Martin, who had found it convenient to leave after a divorce scandal. A third Dingo Dell, which soon fell apart, was made up of the Lindsay brothers, Jack and Philip, ‘Inky’ Stephensen (who stayed for eight years, 1924–32), Brian Penton and John Kirtley, associated with the London Aphrodite magazine (1928–9) (‘We affirm Life . . . We affirm Beauty’ it asserted in its first issue) and the short-lived Fanfrolico Press, which published fine editions of the more scabrous works of classical authors.

Weaning Australia from the teats of London In denying that England is, in contemporary reality, ‘home’ to the Australian-born . . . I am seeking a basis for indigenous culture in Australia, for a state of mind from which Australian culture can emerge . . . we must find our own culture and define it; we cannot suck pap forever from the teats of London.81

In 1948 Patrick White, at the age of 36, chose to stop sucking from the teats of London. He felt, he said much later, an increasing desire ‘to nuzzle once more at the benevolent teats of the mother country’, and in this case ‘mother’ did not mean England. So, after many years of living as a typical pomio, White repatriated himself 79 By Sylvia Lawson in her biography of the Bulletin editor Jules Archibald: The Archibald Paradox: A Strange Case of Authorship, Allen Lane, 1983, p. ix. 80 British-Australasian, 11 Jan. 1900, p. 72. 81 Stephensen, Foundations of Culture in Australia, pp. 31–2.


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permanently. He told something about his motives in an influential essay he wrote a decade later, ‘The Prodigal Son’. He did look forward to enjoying the fatted calf which welcomed the original prodigal son, for post-war austerity made him eager for good food. But he had no illusions about what awaited him. ‘The Prodigal Son’ is, at best, just two cheers for repatriation. White found, when he got back, just as expected: the Great Australian Emptiness, in which the mind is the least of possessions, in which the rich man is the important man, in which the schoolmaster and the journalist rule what intellectual roost there is, in which beautiful youths and girls stare at life through blind blue eyes . . . .

And so on. Yet despite the gloom, repatriation was the right move for White. Just as a friend had told him, new colours came flooding back on to his palette of effects; and the new struggle he had set himself, ‘to create completely fresh forms out of the rocks and sticks of words’82 led directly to The Tree of Man and Voss. When ‘The Prodigal Son’ appeared in 1958, it seemed a straw in the wind. Was expatriation slowing, and repatriation about to become fashionable? Not at all. Actually, the flow of literary e´ migr´es heading in the opposite direction to White did not slow after 1950; indeed, as the restrictions imposed by World War II gradually vanished, it increased, reaching a peak perhaps 15 years later. As far as one can judge, the motives for going did not alter much either. But what did start to change, around 1950, was the nature of the literary relationship with England. After the war, it was increasingly the United States that seemed to offer writers the most congeniality, the most relevant models, and the best opportunities and rewards if they lived or published there. Then again, the uplifting idea of being a citizen of a global empire, rather than merely an honorary Briton, weakened steadily, especially after the Suez fiasco in 1956. The tyranny of distance eased, air travel flourished, and a ‘home visit’ was no longer a long-term proposition. Some of the emotional heat started to go out of the idea of the rush to London. Another essay of 1958, ‘The Last Expatriate’, by Alister Kershaw (which had, in fact, been the irritant which produced White’s own essay) argued that the idea of expatriation itself was dying: thus his title. He mocked those who, so he said, thought ‘their paint will flake and their lines no longer scan if ever they cross a frontier’.83 His article was nothing more than a squib, but taken together with White’s explanation about why he had repatriated himself, it brings some sort of symbolic closure to the concerns delineated in this chapter. With the globalisation of the book trade, and to a large extent of literature itself, the very concept of being, distinguishably, an ‘expatriate’, even an ‘expatriate writer’, began to dissolve. Robert 82 Patrick White, ‘The Prodigal Son’ in Imre Salusinszky (ed.), The Oxford Book of Australian Essays, OUP, 1997, pp. 125–8. The ‘nuzzling’ phrase was Alister Kershaw’s (see below) but White picked it up as defining his own feelings in 1948. Neither man refers to Stephensen’s earlier use of the metaphor. 83 Alister Kershaw, ‘The Last Expatriate’ in ibid., p. 146. Kershaw, resident in France, was a journalist and author of a History of the Guillotine.


Australia’s England, 1880–1950

Hughes once said, optimistically, that in the evolving global village there is no centre and no periphery and therefore the old cultural relationship between metropolis and colony is becoming meaningless. Whether this has become true for Australia over the last 50 years is beyond our present scope, but it is fair to say that knowing exactly how much time Hughes spends in Melbourne or New York is of no interest to anyone except the author himself. Finally, it is hard to draw definite conclusions about how Australian literature has been shaped by expatriation, or more generally, by the colony–metropole relationship. Of course, it is tempting to speculate what the cost has been, not only in terms of the books that never got written, but also in terms of the benefits forthcoming if they had inserted themselves vigorously in the cultural life of their day. It is natural to suppose that the loss to Australian cultural and intellectual life over three generations, though it has never been properly quantified, and perhaps cannot be, must have been profound. Taking the gloomiest view, one might say that the country suffered from the inverse of Darwinian natural selection: the fittest exported themselves, opening a niche in which the smug, the mediocre, and the dullards prospered. But such speculations are idle. For one thing, some of the books did get written. It is hard to believe that the Mahony trilogy would have been much different if H. H. Richardson, who lived as a near-recluse anyway, had written in the suburban solitude of Melbourne rather than her luxurious house with its soundproof study near Regent’s Park. She moved in no English literary circle and her English settings are always described through an outsider’s eye. When she sends Richard Mahony doctoring to Leicester, for instance, it is painfully obvious that she either had never been there or else found it entirely uninteresting. For her it is just a conveniently generic industrial town. No residence was needed to write those scenes; a visit to the library would have sufficed. Equally, would it have made much difference if Martin Boyd had spent 30 years of his productive life in Victoria, rather than a mere four? His ‘Australian’ novels operate in a self-assured, elite anglophile social stratum where British and Australian mores are virtually indistinguishable anyway. In the world of Lucinda Brayford (1946), for instance, the young sisters ‘come out’ at Government House, Melbourne and later, across the world, they are presented at court by the high commissioner. The two ceremonies – and the cultures which have produced them – seem indivisible, and it is no part of the novel’s objective to contrast them. Twice Boyd made fictions out of Barbara Baynton’s colourful life-story (in Brangane: A Memoir, 1926, and Such Pleasure, 1949), with the heroine each time an adventuress and social climber; and each time for some reason (possibly connected with the libel laws) he stripped out all the fascinating Australian detail, turning them instead into Jamesian, mannered social comedies. Boyd himself quite deliberately, in the second and more considered version of his autobiography, refused to concede that expatriation had had any influence on him one way or the other. He claimed, revealingly, that ‘My inner division, if I have one, is the age-long one of the European, between the Mediterranean and the north.’ We note Boyd’s


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geographical orientation: that particular division, it implies, is not one that can trouble an antipodean.84 In other cases, the flight to England seems to have been utterly inevitable. Quite a number of the most anglophile expatriates seemed to regard themselves as Britons who by some inscrutable accident had been geographically displaced at birth: a cosmic error that they hastened to rectify as soon as they could. While one cannot know what they might ultimately have made of themselves at home, the parabolas of their actual careers show that they could not possibly have developed as they were able to do in England. Australia was never going to contain a man like the adventurer Alfred ‘Smiler’ Hales, who left permanently in 1899 and went on to travel the world. Once settled in England he wrote about 50 books, including the rumbustious McGlusky tales which alone are said to have sold two million copies. At a very different level, the same could be said of Walter (W. J. R.) Turner. Although he wrote passionately of his bush childhood in his memoir Blow for Balloons, Turner predictably absconded in his early 20s. He rose like a rocket in Bloomsbury circles by sheer industry and force of personality. In 1923 he was sketched by the fashionable William Rothenstein, as a man to watch; Aldous Huxley supplied a pen-portrait to go with the sketch, and then mildly satirised Turner in his equally fashionable roman a` clef, Antic Hay.85 Learned, full of sophisticated and unsettling opinions, and the lover of several clever women, Turner became a prolific Georgian poet, a biographer, one of the great arbiters of musical taste between the wars (he was a provocative music critic for the New Statesman for many years), and a man about town: just the kind of glamorous career that was totally impossible in Australia. More orthodox literary scholars took easily to transplantation. Joseph Jacobs, who left as a young man in 1873 to start his formidable career as an anthropologist and linguist, and who later gained an international reputation as the foremost historian of Judaism, could have had no future in those roles had he stayed. It is equally inconceivable that Gilbert Murray, though he was the son of a NSW politician, could ever have become the profound classical scholar, Regius Professor of Greek, and tireless promoter of the League of Nations, at home. His single return visit in 1892, aged 26, did not detain him long.86 Similarly, his colleague and prot´eg´e at Cambridge, Florence Melian Stawell, another brilliant classical and literary scholar, left in 1889 aged 20, and probably never gave a thought to returning, despite being the daughter of the chief justice of Victoria. No doubt the degree to which such people continued to regard themselves as being in any sense Australian at all, differed somewhat. But mostly they were simply absorbed into English intellectual or scholarly life without tension or regret or a single backward glance. In short, that malaise which is supposed to trouble the

84 Boyd, Day of My Delight, p. 239. 85 Casimir Lypiatt’s absurd ‘Mexican’ poem is a mischievous version of Turner’s best-known poem, ‘Romance’. In Point Counter Point (1928) Huxley gives recognisable portraits of Stephensen (as a drunken boor) and Jack Lindsay. 86 It rates only a single line in his entry in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


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exile – alienation, estrangement, deracination – meant little to many, perhaps most, Australians’ experience of Britain, providing they were moderately successful in their chosen field. Perhaps that too is not as surprising as it may seem at first sight. After all, expatriation within and between the countries of the English-speaking world was and is commonplace. Writers have always been mobile – it is one of the few perks of their trade. Miles Franklin’s biographer finds it odd that she wrote her novels of pioneer Australia over a 10-year period at a desk in the British Museum library.87 But Joyce wrote the greatest of Irish novels while in Europe and never returned home; and D. H. Lawrence, English to the core, did some of his best work in Italy, France and New Mexico, and died abroad. R. L. Stevenson stayed a Scot though he worked in the South Seas for six years, and died there. Expatriation, most obviously of authors and painters to America and southern Europe, has a long history in Britain, especially in the 20th century. (Expatriation into England from places other than Australia has been hugely significant too: Conrad, Pound, Eliot, James, Nabokov, Naipaul and a host of others.) In the broad perspective, it is no odder that Franklin gave her alter ego, Brent of Bin Bin, the ‘address’ of seat S.9 in the library’s reading room than that the notation ‘Trieste–Zurich–Paris’ should appear at the end of Ulysses. 87 Drusilla Modjeska, Exiles at Home: Australian Women Writers, 1925–1945, A&R, 1981, p. 156.



Australian children’s literature clare bradford

I frame this account of the history of Australian children’s literature between two texts: the first Australian-published book for children, A Mother’s Offering to Her Children (1841), and Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (2006). A Mother’s Offering was directed to Britishborn and first-generation children of British settlers, introducing them to the dangers and wonders of Australia; The Arrival follows the journey of a migrant, who leaves his wife and daughter in their impoverished town to seek a better life for his family. It would be an oversimplification to say that A Mother’s Offering is didactic while The Arrival is not, since writing for children is always informed by socialising agendas, overt and covert. Although the texts differ sharply in their mode of address and the subject positions they offer readers, they are alike in their preoccupation with how newcomers to a strange land make sense of the multiple forms of strangeness they encounter. A Mother’s Offering interprets Australia to child readers, offering explanations for its geographical and botanical features and the lives and culture of Aboriginal people, or ‘natives’. The Arrival works as a meditation on diasporic and refugee experience, and the processes whereby a stranger becomes a citizen. For my purposes, the two texts function as bookends, drawing attention to the vast shifts of sentiment and representation which characterise Australian children’s literature between 1841 and 2006. A Mother’s Offering is unambiguously a children’s book. The text is framed as a series of conversations between a mother, Mrs Saville, and her four children, three girls and a boy, so that children outside the book can align themselves with the children within, who listen to stories told by an authoritative, knowledgeable female narrator. The audience of The Arrival is not so readily defined, since this text crosses notional boundaries between child and adult readers, and has been especially popular among readers of graphic novels and science fiction. Its subject-matter, which incorporates stories by and about characters who have endured pogroms and wars, implies older children and young adults, the audiences of Shaun Tan’s previous picture books including The Rabbits (1998) and The Lost Thing (2000). Many picture books, even those directed at young children, involve what Barbara Wall describes as ‘dual address’, engaging children in narrative at the same time that they offer adults the pleasure of recognising allusions and meanings


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which will often be unavailable to children.1 The most illustrious Australian example is Tohby Riddle’s The Great Escape from City Zoo (1997), which deftly incorporates visual references to Edward Hopper, Rene Magritte and the Beatles into its story about the escape of four animals – an elephant, a flamingo, a turtle, an anteater – from the confines of a zoo, their adventures and eventual recapture (with the exception of the flamingo). In terms of the readership it addresses, Tan’s The Arrival differs from The Great Escape from City Zoo in that its framing narrative implies readers with some knowledge of 20th-century histories of forced migration and displacement, whereas The Great Escape is readily accessible to young children as a story following a schema common in children’s literature: when characters leave their home (or place of imprisonment) to embark on adventures, returning at the end of the narrative.2 Contemporary Australian picture books traverse readerships from babies to young adults as well as the adults (parents, teachers) who mediate texts to children. In another respect too, it is not easy to determine when books are ‘for children’. It has always been the case that young readers have appropriated texts intended for a general audience; examples include Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. During the last decade the reverse trend has been evident, with many books for children and young adults simultaneously marketed to adults. I focus in this chapter on books directed at young people, while recognising that readerships of such books are often broader than their primary audience.

Australian publishing for children: Antecedents and development Australian publishing for children developed from British publishing practices and literary models. In the 1740s the British publisher John Newbery recognised the potential for children’s books to attract a middle-class market of parents intent on providing their offspring with reading material that would teach them useful social accomplishments as well as moral and religious values. By the time A Mother’s Offering was published in Sydney in 1841, then, the British children’s book industry was already a century old, producing popular material in the form of chapbooks and periodicals, religious fiction published by organisations like the Religious Tract Society, poetry, and illustrated books. In the United States, too, the Puritans had published instructional material for children from the 1680s to supplement the books they imported from Britain, and following the War of 1812 American publishers, responding to the nationalism of the times, increasingly produced books set in the United States and featuring American children as protagonists. 1 Barbara Wall, The Narrator’s Voice: The Dilemma of Children’s Fiction, St Martin’s Press, 1991, pp. 35–6. 2 See Cheryl McMillan, ‘Metafiction and Humour in The Great Escape from City Zoo’, Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, 10.2 (2000), pp. 5–11.


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The emergence of children’s literature in Australia has a good deal in common with the trajectory of Canadian and New Zealand children’s literature, where similarly a reliance on British books and literary precedents continued well into the 20th century, tracking the cultural shifts whereby former colonies established themselves as independent nations. Roderick McGillis notes that a distinctively Canadian literature for children began to emerge in the 1970s; before this time, he says, ‘much of Canada’s literature reflected either the nation’s colonial past or the influence of the United States’.3 In New Zealand, too, according to Betty Gilderdale, the 1970s saw ‘a spectacular transformation in both the quantity and quality of New Zealand children’s literature’4 as authors such as Margaret Mahy, Maurice Gee and Tessa Duder gained popularity. Similarly the children’s book industry in Australia enjoyed rapid growth in the 1960s, with a phase of energetic development in the 1980s.5 Contemporary texts for children in these three nations are informed by the particular and local assumptions of the societies in which they are produced; at the same time, the publishing industry exists at the nexus of globalising influences, and multinational publishing conglomerates control a large proportion of literary production for children. The extent to which 19th-century and early-20th-century children’s books can be seen to be ‘Australian’ relates more to their authorship and content than to their place of publication, since books by Australian and British authors continued to be published in Britain until well into the 20th century. Brenda Niall notes in Australia through the Looking-Glass that ‘for the greater part of the 19th century the literary perspective from which Australian scenes were created was predominantly that of the outsider’,6 as representations of Australia were generally filtered through a British perspective; and texts were addressed more to the primary audience of British children than to the smaller audience of Australian children. Indeed, many British authors, including W. H. G. Kingston, Frank Sargent and Anne Bowman, produced settler and adventure novels set in Australia without any first-hand experience of the country, relying on travellers’ tales and documentary writing for local colour and basing their characters and narratives on British models. Between 1865 and 1884, for instance, Kingston produced seven novels featuring settler families and their adventures in Australia, in which characters typically learn to live off the land and engage in a series of adventures involving bushfires, floods, snakes, encounters with wild Aborigines, bushrangers and mutinous stockmen, and with formulaic closures in which characters are ensconced in homes which reproduce Britain in Australia. In The Gilpins and their Fortunes (1865),

3 Roderick McGillis, ‘Canada’, in P. Hunt (ed.), Children’s Literature: An Illustrated History, OUP, p. 334. 4 Betty Gilderdale, ‘Children’s Literature’, in T. Sturm (ed.), The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English, 2nd edn, OUP, 1998, p. 546. 5 See Robyn Sheahan-Bright, ‘To Market, To Market: The Development of the Australian Children’s Publishing Industry’, PhD Thesis, Griffith University, 2004, copy in Australian Digital Theses database, (accessed 7 Apr., 2008), pp. 191–217. 6 Brenda Niall, Australia Through the Looking-Glass: Children’s Fiction, 1830–1980, MUP, 1984, p. 1.


Australian children’s literature

the narrator addresses British children as potential emigrants, disclosing the agenda of this and other Kingston novels: ‘No more need be said than this – that an honest hardworking man who goes to Australia with a family, though he may meet with many ups and downs, may be pretty sure of doing well himself, and of settling his children comfortably around him.’7 A Mother’s Offering is addressed squarely to Australian children; but the perspective filtered through Mrs Saville’s descriptions of Australian geography, flora and fauna is that of a cultured British migrant viewing the new land through British eyes. Charlotte Barton, the ‘lady long resident in New South Wales’ who wrote A Mother’s Offering, asserts in the preface that the book’s main virtue is ‘the truth of the subjects narrated’.8 In this respect Barton’s text can be seen as a descendant of influential British works such as Lessons for Children, by Anna Letitia Barbauld, published in 1778 and 1779, and Ellenor Fenn’s Cobwebs to Catch Flies (1783), both of which incorporated information and moral precepts into conversations between mothers and children. The children addressed by Mrs Saville in A Mother’s Offering are older than those of Lessons for Children and Cobwebs to Catch Flies, but they are similarly represented as docile subjects and assiduous students. Through their questions and responses they model the values and attitudes of middle-class children of their period. A Mother’s Offering departs from its British antecedents in its emphasis on the exotic and the adventurous: stories of exploration, shipwreck and kidnapping; and accounts of Indigenous cultures and people. As the following excerpt demonstrates, the Saville children are depicted as young explorers and botanists: clara – The country is very magnificent all about those Mountain Ranges. I dare say there are many wonderful things yet undiscovered. I should like to spend many weeks exploring in the neighbourhood. julius – So should I; I would take my spears and try to spear some of those beautiful birds for Mama to have stuffed.9

The children’s reactions and their interests here and elsewhere in A Mother’s Offering are heavily gendered. Clara’s description evokes the picturesque tradition in its emphasis on the grandeur of the scenery and the wonder and awe it arouses; Julius’, in contrast, is related to traditions of adventure writing involving energetic action and the manly pursuit of hunting. The metanarrative informing this description – and the entire book – involves an empty land waiting to be discovered by the children and (by implication) readers of the book. A large proportion of A Mother’s Offering is devoted to stories of shipwreck. The stories of William D’Oyley, the son of passengers on the Charles Eaton, and of John Ireland, an apprentice on the same ship, are captivity narratives, tracing the boys’ experience 7 W. H. G. Kingston, The Gilpins and their Fortunes, SPCK, p. 64. 8 A Mother’s Offering to Her Children by A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales [1841], Jacaranda, facs. edn, 1979, Preface. 9 Ibid., p. 9.


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when they are ‘kidnapped’ by Aborigines from Murray Island. Like other colonial captivity narratives, Mrs Saville’s account of the wrecking of the Charles Eaton and the death of passengers and crew at the hands of Torres Strait Islanders10 demonstrates the superiority of whiteness through contrasts between civilisation and savagery. Unlike captivity narratives directed at adult audiences, such as the Eliza Fraser stories, which are imbued with prurient pleasure evoked by images of a white woman forced into sexual relations with black men, the stories of kidnapped children in A Mother’s Offering focus on their suffering and helplessness, and on their longing for home and family. Kay Schaffer notes that colonial accounts of the shipwreck of the Stirling Castle depict Indigenous women as particularly cruel to captives, and as embodying a lower form of humanity than Indigenous men.11 In contrast, A Mother’s Offering, directed to a young audience of boys and girls (mirroring the Saville children), is concerned with positioning boy readers as future protectors of women, and girl readers as future mothers. This makes for a complex and fraught treatment of Indigenous women: kind and loving like Duppah, the Murray Island woman who takes care of William D’Oyley and John Ireland; or unmotherly and promiscuous like Nanny, described in the chapter ‘Anecdotes of the Aborigines of New South Wales’, whose story comprises a veiled warning against miscegenation.12 A Mother’s Offering can be seen as a precursor to the settler narratives and adventure stories (mainly produced in Britain) of the second half of the 19th century. Its descriptions of Australian landscapes position young readers to regard settlers as explorers of country which is unseen until they view it, unknown until they discover it; and the differences embodied in geographical features, flora and fauna are defined in relation to normative European settings. Mrs Saville’s preoccupation with botanical names and with close descriptions of exotica such as palm trees anticipates the fiction of other women writers such as Louisa Anne Meredith, whose ‘anecdotes of birds and animals’ in Tasmanian Friends and Foes, Feathered, Furred and Finned (1880) are said to be ‘facts, set down simply from our own experience’;13 quasi-scientific information provided in an authoritative tone. The narratives of exploration incorporated into A Mother’s Offering, as well as its descriptions of geographical and natural phenomena, demonstrate to young readers that the new land and its features are there to be discovered and owned, through physical journeys and the application of European systems of knowledge to the land, its animals and vegetation. 10 See McRose Elu, on incidents of shipwreck in Torres Strait history. Elu points out that ‘shipwrecked people . . . in Torres Strait and the neighbouring Papuan coast were often secretly killed in order to “send them back to their origin” ’: ‘Cooking, Walking, and Talking Cosmology: An Islander Woman’s Perspective of Religion’, in R. Davis (ed.), Woven Histories, Dancing Lives: Torres Strait Islander Identity, Culture and History, Aboriginal Studies Press, p. 145. 11 Kay Schaffer, In the Wake of First Contact: The Eliza Fraser Stories, CUP, 1995, pp. 98–9. 12 See Clare Bradford, Reading Race: Aboriginality in Australian Children’s Literature, MUP, 2001, pp. 83–5. 13 Louisa Anne Meredith, Tasmanian Friends and Foes Feathered, Furred and Finned: A Family Chronicle of Country Life, Natural History, and Veritable Adventures, J. Walch, 1880, p. 3.


Australian children’s literature

The descriptions of Indigenous people woven throughout A Mother’s Offering also anticipate the typologies of Indigeneity which inform settler and adventure novels for young people, and which persist well into the 20th century. Indigenous people feature as barbaric figures intent on murdering travellers; as comic relief (especially in descriptions of Aboriginal people wearing European clothes); as ‘good’ natives, like Duppah, who wish only to minister to Europeans; and, like Sally, a ‘half-caste, or brown child’,14 as tragic figures torn between cultures because of their mixed racial heritage. All these modes of representation are informed by the conviction that ‘they’ are a lower order of humans, having little in common with the delicately reared Saville children and the implied readers of A Mother’s Offering. At the very beginning of Australian writing for children, then, the presence of Indigenous people and the violence of colonialism trouble a narrative which positions readers as young colonials. This dilemma – how to represent Australia to young people while addressing the unresolved consequences of the nation’s colonial foundation – stalks Australian children’s literature to the present. As writers living or spending extended periods in Australia began to produce fiction for young people, narratives shifted from stories of British emigrant families and individuals re-creating Britain in Australia, to accounts of young characters, the new ‘natives’ of the country, forging Australian identities. Toward the end of the 19th century British publishers began to employ agents in Australia to commission works for publication, and as the Australian audience increased in number and purchasing capacity, books for children began to reflect an Australian nationalism centred on the bush and young protagonists who identified as Australians. Many of Robert Richardson’s short stories and novels, for instance, feature young protagonists who are ‘strong and hardy, as a settler’s children should be’,15 and whose characters are tested by adventures in rural settings. Although myths of Australian nationhood at the end of the 19th century centred on the bush, the book which most forcefully promoted itself as Australian, Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians (1894), locates its story of family life in a suburban setting: Misrule, a house ‘some distance up the Parramatta River’. Turner’s description of Misrule is, however, strikingly bush-like: ‘there was a big wilderness of a garden, two or three paddocks, numberless sheds for hide-and-seek, and, best of all, the water’;16 the children – except for the eldest son Pip, who goes to the grammar school – are taught by a governess; and a crucial episode, the death of Judy, occurs in the bush, when the children and their stepmother Esther are holidaying at Yarrahappini, the cattle station owned by Esther’s parents. Seven Little Australians was published in London, winning praise from Mark Twain and George Meredith.17 In Australia it was immediately popular and is the only 19thcentury Australian text still read by children, having attracted a new readership following 14 15 16 17

A Mother’s Offering, p. 199. Robert Richardson, A Little Australian Girl; and Other Stories, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1881, p. 8. Ethel Turner, Seven Little Australians, Ward Lock, p. 13. Brenda Niall, Seven Little Billabongs: The World of Ethel Turner and Mary Grant Bruce, Penguin, 1982, pp. 7–33.


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a 1973 television series based on the novel. Turner begins by appealing to an Australian nationalism which seeks to differentiate Australia from Britain: Not one of the seven is really good, for the very excellent reason that Australian children never are. In England, and America, and Africa, and Asia, the little folks may be paragons of virtue . . . In Australia a model child is – I say it not without thankfulness – an unknown quantity. It may be the miasmas of naughtiness develop best in the sunny brilliancy of our atmosphere. It may be that the land and people are young-hearted together, and the children’s spirits not crushed and saddened by the shadow of long years’ sorrowful history.18

The novel is built around the escapades of the Woolcot children, the offspring of a career soldier who has remarried following the death of his first wife. Thirteen-yearold Judy, the instigator of much of the children’s mischief, is in the mould of other wilful, rebellious girls in fiction: Jo March in Little Women, Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. Indeed, Brenda Niall remarks that ‘to call Ethel Turner “Miss Alcott’s true successor” or “the Australian Louisa Alcott” became a reviewers’ platitude and useful phrase for advertisements of her work’.19 Nevertheless, Turner’s narrative follows a far more melodramatic direction than either Little Women or Anne of Green Gables, in which wild girls are tamed by domesticity and romance. Judy runs away from the boarding school where her father has sent her because he regards her as uncontrollable; she embarks on a week-long walk to Misrule, and develops pneumonia, to be discovered by her father in the shed where her siblings have been harbouring her. The children and Esther are sent for a holiday to Yarrahappini, where Judy dies, crushed under a falling gumtree as she rushes to save the General, her baby stepbrother. The world of Seven Little Australians is that of the Anglo-Celtic, middle-class children implied as its audience. But the citizens of Yarrahappini include a ‘bent old black fellow’,20 Tettawonga, who had ‘earned’ a permanent home 20 years earlier, when he saved the baby Esther and her mother from bushrangers. The cattle station can be read as a metonym for the nation, incorporating a tame Indigenous presence which bestows legitimacy upon the squattocracy represented by Esther’s father. Soothing the General to sleep and making ‘a billy of hot, strong tea’21 for the children as they gather around the dying Judy, Tettawonga conforms to the colonial trope of the loyal black servant who demonstrates the benevolence of his masters. Turner’s depiction of Judy’s death produces a striking combination of themes and images vital to notions of Australian nationhood and citizenship at the turn of the 20th century. The bush is both a homely space and a place of danger; it is also a settled site where Tettawonga’s presence affirms white nationhood. As an unruly feminine subject, Judy is a danger to social order, and must either succumb to a life of domesticity and 18 Ibid., p. 7.

19 Ibid., p. 63.

20 Ibid., p. 146.


21 Ibid., p. 184.

Australian children’s literature

motherhood, or experience rejection. Turner chooses the drastic option of killing Judy off, but her death is also a salvific act which confers life on a young child. In effect, her dying restores order; fittingly, her hilltop grave is surrounded by that most iconic – and orderly – of Australian domestic signifiers, a white paling fence.

The coming Australia and children’s texts Turner continued to write fiction for children and adults until 1928, but none of her subsequent novels was as popular as Seven Little Australians. From 1910, when Mary Grant Bruce published A Little Bush Maid, Bruce’s fiction rivalled Turner’s for its appeal to Australian readers, with 15 Billabong books published from A Little Bush Maid to the last of the series, Billabong Riders in 1942. The Billabong setting is a utopian imagining of the bush, set on a cattle station owned by David Linton, father of Norah, the eponymous bush maid. Much of the action of the Billabong books (apart from the three wartime novels, set in Britain) relies upon interactions between city visitors and Billabong’s inhabitants. The city–bush binary runs along consistent lines: city-dwellers are impractical and vain, spoiled by lives of luxury, while the Lintons and their inner circle live simple, outdoor lives and possess a firm moral code. City visitors are almost without exception reformed by their exposure to the ‘real Australia’ of Billabong, returning to their city lives as improved characters. Like Misrule, Billabong metonymically represents the nation as white and AngloCeltic, but the extensive population of servants and workers at Billabong is organised along lines of class, gender and race. The inner circle comprises David Linton, Norah and her brother Jim; then comes Wally Meadows, a schoolfriend of Jim’s, who is adopted into the Linton family (and eventually marries Norah); and on the fringes, various visitors and long-term guests. A class divide separates Brownie, the cookhousekeeper, from the Lintons; and the head stockman Murty O’Toole, the token Irishman, occupies a place equivalent to Brownie in the outdoor world of the station. The next tier of workers comprises housemaids and station workers. At the bottom of the class hierarchy are two figures located at the margins by reason of class and race: Lee Wing, who is in charge of the vegetable garden, and Black Billy, Bruce’s equivalent of Turner’s Tettawonga. Bruce’s depiction of Lee Wing and Black Billy over the 30 years of the Billabong books evinces a shift as the two transmute from stereotypes to trusted retainers; nevertheless, hierarchies of class and race remain intact, signalling to young readers the racial logic that distinguishes Indigenous and Chinese characters from the white inhabitants of Billabong. The Billabong books proposed a version of Australian nationhood located in the bush and valorising the honesty, directness and work ethic of an idealised settler family. Many of the fantasies that emerged during the first decades of the 20th century projected similar settler virtues onto anthropomorphised native animals: for instance, Ethel Pedley’s Dot and the Kangaroo (1899), May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (1918), and Dorothy


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Wall’s Blinky Bill (1933). Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding (1918), which involves a combination of human and anthropomorphised characters, has often been read as a parable about the formation of nationhood, with the pudding representing the coming Australia of the post-war era.22 The determinedly and self-consciously local emphasis of these books affords a sharp contrast with the work of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, whose Elves and Fairies (1916) and The Enchanted Forest (1921) transposed elves and fairies to ‘Australian’ settings heavily reliant on European fantasy traditions. Boarding school novels were a prominent component of children’s publishing in Britain from Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857) to Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series in the 1940s and to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Australian school stories have more commonly located their settings in day schools, so that their action is structured by the interplay between home and school rather than by the rivalries and friendships common in novels set in the enclosed world of the boarding school. One of the earliest Australian school stories for girls was Louise Mack’s Teens (1897), Angus & Robertson’s first foray into juvenile literature. The novel’s protagonist, Lennie Leighton, is the eldest of four sisters, eager recipients of Lennie’s accounts of school life. In its close attention to the Sydney setting, and its comparisons between Lennie’s orderly home and the haphazard household of her friend Mabel, the novel is interested as much in social practices as in the world of school. Indeed, its principal focus, in the words of Lennie’s mother, is ‘what a beautiful thing was the love of these little schoolgirls for each other’.23 My focus so far has been on juvenile books produced by mainstream publishers in Britain and Australia. However, for many Australian children from the 1890s to the 1950s the principal reading material was school readers produced by state Education Departments: the Victorian Readers, the Queensland Readers, the Adelaide Readers, the Tasmanian Readers. Charles Long, author of the preface to the Eighth Book of the Victorian Readers, articulates its objectives: ‘The young readers were to begin at home, to be taken in imagination to various parts of the empire, to Europe, and to the United States of America, and thus to gain knowledge of their rich heritage and acquire a well-founded pride of race.’24 The readers comprised poetry, non-fiction and fiction drawn principally from British canonical sources. Notions of ‘literary merit’ and of ‘sound morality’25 governed the selection of texts, with a strong emphasis on canonical works and – in the case of Australian material – writing that celebrated the achievements of explorers and settlers. The Eighth Book of the Victorian Readers, for instance, comprises 85 separate pieces,

22 See Christopher Kelen, ‘The Magic Pudding: A Mirror of Our Fondest Wishes’, Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 6 (2007), pp. 65–78. 23 Louise Mack, Teens: A Story of Australian Schoolgirls, A&R, 1897, p. 260. 24 The Victorian Readers: Eighth Book, 2nd edn, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1940, p. v. 25 Ibid.


Australian children’s literature

over half of them by British authors. Of the 29 Australian authors represented, only one (Amy Mack) is a woman, with the Australian texts dividing between descriptions of the land, accounts of life in the outback, and stories of heroism and adventure. Even for the time of their publication in the late 1920s the Victorian Readers comprised a conservative array of texts that foregrounded Britishness and promoted mythologies of Australian identity centred on rural life and settler achievement. The Victorian Readers were used in all Victorian state schools until the 1950s; and they are strikingly similar in their composition and selection of texts to readers produced in other states. The influence of the school readers on young Australians can be explained by the pervasiveness of their use, and by the fact that most children had few other sources of reading material until school and public library services developed during the 1950s and 60s. The post-war baby boom in 1950s Australia coincided with a tendency across Western nations to redefine concepts of childhood and youth. The invention of the teenager in the 1950s; the influence of Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care (1946); the emergence of children and young people as consumers, among other factors, produced an emphasis on the needs and interests of children. Jan Kociumbas notes of the Australian context that ‘well-to-do white children . . . became, in the 1950s and 1960s, the objects of intense pedagogical and commercial attention’.26 In line with these developments, children’s publishing became an object of adult concern, and increasing numbers of Australian publishers developed juvenile lists. The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) was formed in 1958, growing out of the state-based Book Councils established in the 1940s. The CBCA awards have succeeded in drawing attention to children’s books, within a celebratory and largely uncritical perspective; it has also privileged a body of prize-winning texts, so shaping perceptions of cultural capital. The shifts toward increased attention to children’s psychological development coincided in Australia with a conservative socio-political ethos, demonstrated by the banning of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) as an indecent publication by Australian Customs in 1956. Many mid-century Australian books promote the idea that an authentic Australian identity is to be found only in remote pastoral settings. In Nan Chauncy’s series of novels featuring the Lorenny family, Tiger in the Bush (1957), Devils’ Hill (1958) and The Roaring 40 (1963), depictions of the family’s life on their isolated Tasmanian farm are mapped onto settler culture mythologies. The identity-formation of Badge Lorenny, the boy protagonist in all three novels, is imbricated with his developing attachment to place – both the family farm and the wild country which surrounds it. Thus, in Tiger in the Bush Badge ensures the survival of a thylacine whose existence is a secret known only to the Lorennys and to Harry, an old recluse who lives in the bush. If Harry has ‘gone native’, refusing to engage with the outside world, Badge is also depicted as the ‘natural’ custodian and protector of the wild, exemplified by his act 26 Jan Kociumbas, Australian Childhood: A History, A&U, 1997, p. 209.


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of tricking American visitors into taking a plaster cast of Harry’s wombat instead of the thylacine for which they have been searching. Referring to Devils’ Hill, John Stephens notes that Chauncy’s depiction of the Lorenny family is marked by a ‘reflex misogyny’ marked by ‘the (male) presupposition that selfhood is predominantly defined by acts of courage’.27 In a muted, tentative way, Mavis Thorpe Clark’s 1966 novel The Min-Min interrogates the masculinism which lies at the heart of conventional formulations of mateship and the bush. Sylvie Edwards is the eldest of five children whose father works as a fettler on a railway siding on the Nullarbor Plain. The outback setting represents a world dominated by masculine preoccupations: Sylvie’s father Joe neglects his family, spending his leisure time drinking with his co-workers, while Sylvie’s dispirited mother, pregnant with her sixth child, dreams of returning to Sydney. When Sylvie’s father beats her in drunken anger, and her brother Reg is threatened with a term in an institution because he vandalises the local school, Sylvie and Reg run away to the outstation of Gulla Tank, home of the Tucker family. The min-min which beckons Sylvie away from her dysfunctional family leads not into the desert but to Mary Tucker, who teaches Sylvie how to cook and sew, so inducting her into a feminine world of domestic activities. Chris Tucker manages a vast sheep station, and the Tuckers are set against the Edwards family as a model of order and discipline. Nevertheless, the novel deals critically with the motivations and behaviour of Chris Tucker and the two acting magistrates who hear the police charges against Reg. Readers are positioned to admire the adroitness with which Mary Tucker undermines her husband’s self-righteousness: for instance, she uses the handbrake to ensure that the family car is bogged, thus preventing Chris Tucker from returning Sylvie and Reg to their home. And the events of Reg’s trial are described through a perspective that emphasises the limitations of the magistrate’s knowledge.28 Through such strategies the text unsettles a regime of power in which men are ostensibly in control, by pointing to the covert resistance of women and the anxieties which lie beneath the appearance of masculine authority. The novel ends with the family relocated to Whyalla, where Joe Edwards finds work. Having given birth to a son, Sylvie’s mother is staying with her parents, and Sylvie, armed with the skills she has learned from Mary Tucker, imposes an unaccustomed discipline on her brothers and sisters, ensuring that they perform household tasks irrespective of gender. She attends dressmaking classes at the technical school with a view to establishing her own business. The Min-Min is a transitional novel in that it promotes female agency in its depiction of Sylvie, while maintaining those gendered binaries that locate women in the home and men in the outside world of work. 27 John Stephens, ‘Continuity, Fissure, or Dysfunction? From Settler Society to Multicultural Society in Australian Fiction’, in R. McGillis (ed.), Voices of the Other: Children’s Literature and the Postcolonial Context, Garland, 1999, p. 60. 28 For a discussion of representations of fathers in Australian fiction for children, see Beverley Pennell, ‘ “You’re a failure as a parent, Joe Edwards!” Reconfiguring the Male Parent in Australian Realist Fictions for Children 1966–1986’, Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, 9.1 (1999), pp. 31–40.


Australian children’s literature

Chauncy’s depiction of rural life looked to settler experience as a model of heroic enterprise, while Clark’s treatment of the outback critiqued the gendered practices whereby girls and women are treated as marginal. Another representational strand is evident in 1960s novels which projected onto the natural environment a sense of unease about the shallowness of European knowledge and habitation, through narratives in which children struggled for survival in an indifferent or hostile landscape. In Ivan Southall’s Hills End (1962) a cyclone almost destroys the town of Hills End, leaving seven children to fend for themselves; and in Southall’s Ash Road (1965) and Colin Thiele’s February Dragon (1965) young protagonists are caught up in bushfires. Scattered through these survival narratives are allusions to Indigenous knowledge, often set against characters’ sense that their purchase on the land is tenuous. In Reginald Ottley’s By the Sandhills of Yamboorah (1965), for instance, the unnamed boy protagonist, working as a station hand on a property at the edge of the desert, observes an Aboriginal man and reflects that ‘He’s part of it . . . an’ though he’s movin’, you don’t seem to notice.’ He himself feels the desert to be a ‘great, brown loneliness’ which threatens to engulf him.29

Cultural diversity and children’s literature Hesba Brinsmead’s Pastures of the Blue Crane (1964) was one of the first modern Australian texts to engage with race relations, with reference to the sorry history of the indentured labour of Pacific Islanders. The protagonist Ryl discovers after her father’s death that he has bequeathed her and her grandfather, Rusty, a run-down house and banana plantation, and Ryl and Rusty – strangers prior to the reading of the will – set out for the country town where their property is located. In part the plot relies on the familiar scenario in which a city-dwelling protagonist is inducted into the ‘real’ Australia of the bush; in part on a storyline in which two characters (Ryl and Dusty) start out as antagonists and become friends; in part, on its treatment of race relations. Ryl’s discovery that she is the daughter of a Kanak woman and that her brother is Perry, a dark-skinned boy whose appearance testifies to his mixed-race origins, is also a moment of revelation concerning inter-racial sexual relations in the past. The novel does not canvass the race and gender politics of the relationship of Ryl’s father and her Kanak mother. Rather, it calls on this relationship to interrogate racial stereotypes and hierarchies in the 1960s setting. Ryl comes to understand that her father’s concealment of his marriage has its echoes in the book’s present time, when Perry is treated slightingly by one of their friends. Ryl ‘instinctively’ sides with Perry even before she discovers that he is her brother, but her repugnance for Glen’s prejudice is explained in terms of her consciousness of Perry’s ‘natural’ superiority: 29 Reginald Ottley, By the Sandhills of Yamboorah, Andr´e Deutsch, 1965, pp. 164, 165.


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‘Perry,’ she went on, ‘I used to be a frightful snob . . . . I would have treated you – well – badly – when I first met you – if I hadn’t quickly found out that you’re – it’s hard to say it – that you’re a gentleman! . . . There were a few dark girls at school – girls from Malaya and India – and they were – well – ladies! . . . But why should Glen be horrid to you, when he knows perfectly well that you are not stupid, or in any way his inferior?’30

Readers are invited to acquiesce in the idea that racism is a function of class norms which define an individual’s worth. Within this ‘colour-blind’ scheme, racialised hierarchies are folded into practices of social exclusion and inclusion. When the Whitlam Government introduced policies of multiculturalism in 1973 to replace the assimilationist models that dominated political discourses until this time, Australian publishers were quick to produce texts thematising cultural diversity, immigration, community relations and notions of Australian citizenship. In most texts of the 1970s and 1980s, however, views of cultures other than Anglo-Celtic were filtered through the perspectives of Anglo-Celtic, middle-class characters, and multiculturalism was valued insofar as it was seen to contribute to the wellbeing (economic and psychological) of the dominant culture. John Stephens speculates that one explanation for this narrow and limited view of multiculturalism is that ‘authors have on the whole not come from the 25 percent of Australians who are of non-British origins’;31 another is that themes of migration and cultural difference tended to be subsumed into a narrative pattern which dominates children’s literature, that of personal growth and development. By the mid-1990s, following the emergence of Pauline Hanson’s far-right nationalism and the Howard Government’s promotion of an essentialised Australian identity based on Britishness, texts for children and young adults increasingly subjected Australian versions of multiculturalism to a more critical scrutiny. In Allan Baillie’s Secrets of Walden Rising (1996), the old gold town of Walden is buried under the waters of a reservoir. As the water-level drops during a long drought, Walden rises into visibility until, by the end of the novel, it is possible to walk its streets and explore its buildings. As the old town is exposed, so its history is brought into the open. Brendan, the novel’s focaliser, is an outsider, ‘the Pom’, and his investigations disclose stories which have been strategically forgotten. His classmate Tony Lee, descended from a Chinese goldminer, tells Brendan stories he learned from his grandfather, how his great-grandfather Lee Weyun and the other Chinese ‘had to work on land that nobody wanted. They had to sleep on slopes that people could not walk on. When someone died they were not lowered into a hole, they were slid into the ground like a filing cabinet.’32 Tony’s family memories shape his sense of the precariousness of his alliance with the other boys in the town, who are always liable to turn on him with hostility, as their ancestors 30 Hesba Brinsmead, Pastures of the Blue Crane, OUP, 1964, p. 101. 31 John Stephens, ‘Advocating Multiculturalism: Migrants in Australian Children’s Literature after 1972’, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 15.4 (1990), p. 181. 32 Allan Baillie, Secrets of Walden Rising, Viking, p. 53.


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turned on his great-grandfather and the other Chinese prospectors. The reappearance of Walden’s streetscape instantiates old racial hierarchies in that it reveals the tiny shop that Lee Weyun established following the gold rush. Insignificant in comparison with the Empire Hotel, the church and the Emporium, it encodes relations of value still active in the contemporary setting. Whereas Tony’s family have hung on in the town – his father runs the Lee Family Store – no Indigenous presence survives. Brendan’s classmate Elliot Cardiff insists: ‘Boongs? They were never here.’33 This vehemence is a marker of the importance he attaches to a fiction he has been told by his family – that the Cardiffs were the first to live on and own land in the region. A more sinister story then emerges, concerning Charley Cardiff, Elliott’s ancestor, who provided rum to his farm-workers and sent them out to hunt the Aboriginal people who lived in the hills near the town, until all were dead or had fled. The novel concludes with a kind of treasure-hunt as Brendan and Bago, the boy who has bullied him, search through the old town for a bushranger’s hoard. The treasure turns out to be nothing more than old banknotes which crumble into dust, and a collection of items once prized but now worthless. In the end, what counts as treasure is the tentative friendship forged between Bago and Brendan, boys from different countries who have been brought together by the uncovering of memories. The novel does not, however, provide a consolatory ending. Rather, it positions its readers to engage with the ethical questions that were at the heart of the Australian history wars at the time the novel was published: what responsibility do citizens have toward the past? What constitutes justice for Indigenous people? How is it that anti-Asian sentiments are so close to the surface of national consciousness? The responsiveness of children’s authors to contemporary politics is evident in the many novels and picture books which took up issues relating to refugees and border control during John Howard’s eleven years as prime minister. Some of these texts, like Morris Gleitzman’s Boy Overboard (2002) and Girl Underground (2004), seek to engage readers by filtering narratives through the perspectives of young refugees. Others, including picture books such as Tan’s The Lost Thing (2000) and Narelle Oliver’s Dancing the Boom Cha Cha Boogie (2005), treat cultural difference and displacement by metaphor and allegory. In The Lost Thing, a young boy finds a ‘lost thing’ at the beach, a ‘thing’ which does not fit within his world, and which may be read as a refugee reaching an Australian shore. The beach is separated from houses by an enormous, solid wall. Among neat rows of sun-umbrellas, citizens stand apart from each other and look out to sea, so that the beach, far from a playground, is a dystopian space where fear erects barriers and where community connections have been destroyed. The boy takes the lost thing home, where his parents’ reactions are typical of antirefugee rhetoric in Australia and elsewhere: 33 Ibid., p. 67.


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‘Its feet are filthy!’ shrieked Mum. ‘It could have all kinds of strange diseases,’ warned Dad. ‘Take it back to where you found it,’ they demanded . . . 34

The boy sees a notice in the paper, from the Federal Department of Odds and Ends, offering accommodation for ‘troublesome artifacts of unknown origin’, but just as he is about to sign a form consigning the lost thing to bureaucracy he hears the small voice of dissent:‘If you really care about that thing, you shouldn’t leave it here,’ said a tiny voice. ‘This is a place for forgetting, leaving behind, smoothing over. Here, take this.’35 A hand gives the boy a business card carrying ‘a kind of sign’, and at length he finds ‘the sort of place you’d never know existed unless you were actually looking for it’, populated by hybridised creatures of many shapes and sizes, talking, making music, reading, gesturing. Here at last the lost thing is at home, its strangeness merely part of the general strangeness of the inhabitants of this utopian citizenry. The ‘lost thing’ defines itself as alien to the ordered and bureaucratic setting in which it finds itself. Similarly, in Dancing the Boom Cha Cha Boogie, Oliver establishes a contrast between the Murmels, who ‘did not have a worry in the world, except for the whirligigs’, and the Snigs, who survive under a repressive and regimented regime. Three young Murmels are caught up in a whirligig and shipwrecked on the shore of the Grand Snigdom. Here they are at once consigned to a prison in a desert landscape. But a young snig befriends the murmels, who introduce her to new foods, teach her how to play hopsplotch and leap-murmel and show her how to dance ‘the jitter-murmel and the boom-cha-cha boogie’. When the Boss Snig threatens to banish the murmels, together with the young snig they dance the boom-cha-cha boogie and introduce him to the delights of eating waterwoppers: ‘The murmels never left Grand Snigdom. And Grand Snigdom has never been quite the same.’36 The utopian closure of the narrative, in which the prison is transformed into a children’s playground, promotes a vision of new world orders where spontaneity and play supplant a grim uniformity. Instead of focusing on how the young murmels are to accommodate to the demands of the host nation, Oliver treats cultural diversity as a force capable of radically altering political and social life.

Writing by and about Indigenous peoples The colonial discourses which informed representations of Indigenous people and cultures in A Mother’s Offering persisted into the 20th century. Jeannie Gunn’s The Little Black Princess (1905) positions readers to align with a narrative perspective that reinforces distinctions between ‘them’ and ‘us’. Gunn’s stories about the relationship between the 34 Shaun Tan, The Lost Thing, Lothian Books, 2006. 35 Ibid. 36 Narelle Oliver, Dancing the Boom Cha Cha Boogie, Omnibus, 2005.


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narrator, the ‘little Missus’ of Elsey Station, and the Aboriginal girl Bett-Bett are told in a conversational style that reduces the distance between narrator and implied readers, producing the impression of shared amusement at the quaint habits of Bett-Bett and the Aborigines at the station. On one hand Bett-Bett is a ‘little pickle’, a common turn-of-century figure exemplified by Judy in Seven Little Australians. On the other hand, she is powerless to evade a kind of psychic disorder that renders her incapable of becoming ‘like us’: at the end of the narrative she takes flight, caught between loyalty to ‘the Missus’ and her desire for ‘her people, and their long walkabouts’.37 By the middle of the 20th century the ‘dying race’ trope was losing its potency in the face of Indigenous survival, and children’s books turned to Aboriginalist modes of representation, exemplified by Rex Ingamells’ Aranda Boy (1952). This text adheres to the agenda of the Jindyworobak movement (see Chapters 7, 10); it creates an adventure narrative involving an Aboriginal boy, Gurra, so offering readers an ‘authentically’ Australian story; as the jacket blurb has it, ‘an exciting story for Australian children about the first Australians’. At the heart of Ingamells’ narrative, however, is the principle of white superiority. At the end of the novel Gurra, alone of the men of his tribe, resists the call to fight the settlers who appropriate ancestral land. He seeks help from a virtuous white man whom he calls Dongberna (Don Byrne), who protects him and his clan, enabling them to maintain their traditional practices. Thus assimilated within benevolent white rule, Aboriginal survival is represented as contingent upon white power. Patricia Wrightson’s treatment of Indigenous traditions in her novels, from An Older Kind of Magic (1972) to the Wirrun trilogy (1977–81), exemplifies how Aboriginalism presents itself as benign and progressive. In her epilogue to An Older Kind of Magic, Wrightson refers to the futility of transposing European fantasy traditions to Australian settings, calling for ‘another kind of magic, a kind that must have been shaped by the land itself at the edge of Australian vision.’38 In an essay published in 1980, Wrightson tells how she searched through ‘the works of anthropologists and early field workers and of laymen who had lived in sympathetic friendship with Aboriginal Australians’. Wrightson’s description of her research is notable for its assumption that non-Aboriginal experts are the proper sources of information rather than Aboriginal people who, she says, ‘told [their stories] haltingly in a foreign tongue or with skilled techniques that could not be conveyed in print’.39 Her trilogy The Song of Wirrun – The Ice Is Coming (1977), The Dark Bright Water (1979), Behind the Wind (1981) – is Wrightson’s most sustained attempt at creating a pan-Aboriginal mythology. The series follows the progress of a hero, Wirrun, who is charged with the task of restoring order to the land when it is threatened by hostile spirits. On the face of it, this representation might 37 Mrs Aeneas Gunn, The Little Black Princess of the Never-Never, A&R, 1962 [1905], pp. 105–6. 38 Patricia Wrightson, An Older Kind of Magic, Hutchinson, 1972, p. 150. 39 Patricia Wrightson, ‘Ever Since my Accident: Aboriginal Folklore and Australian Fantasy’, Horn Book, 56.6 (1980), p. 79.


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seem to constitute a homage; but the fantasy genre within which Wrightson works is so shaped and informed by European traditions that the characters, motifs and spirit figures that it deploys are drawn inexorably into Western frames of reference. By the 1990s, realistic texts were emerging which thematised relationships between contemporary Indigenous and non-Indigenous protagonists. Notable among them are James Moloney’s series Dougy (1993), Gracey (1994) and Angela (1998); Phillip Gwynne’s Deadly Unna? (1998) and Nukkin Ya (2000); Pat Lowe’s The Girl with No Name (1994) and Feeling the Heat (2002); and Leonie Norrington’s The Last Muster (2004). Most are located within the dominant culture and filtered through the perspectives of white narrators or focalising characters whose assumptions about race are tested by encounters with Indigenous people, including (in Nukkin Ya and Feeling the Heat) romantic and sexual relationships. The Last Muster, set on a remote cattle station taken over by a multinational corporation, departs from this pattern, shifting among various perspectives in a subtle account of the complexity of colonial relationships and their consequences in the contemporary setting. The most significant development in representations of Indigeneity has been the emergence of Aboriginal authors, artists and publishers and the production of texts located within Indigenous cultures which write back to the clich´es, stereotypes and sentimentalised versions of Aboriginality that have pervaded much non-Indigenous writing.40 The first Indigenous text published for children was The Legends of Moonie Jarl (1964) by Wilf Reeves and Olga Miller, a work so strikingly different from mainstream picture books that it was received with incomprehension.41 A decade later, Kath Walker published Stradbroke Dreamtime (1972) and Dick Roughsey The Giant DevilDingo (1973) and The Rainbow Serpent (1975). These texts, produced by mainstream publishers, were directed to the non-Indigenous readers who have always comprised the majority audience for Indigenous texts, and editorial processes rendered them sufficiently Western to engage this audience.42 The establishment of Indigenous publishing houses such as Magabala Books and IAD Press has enabled the production of texts that inscribe cultural difference more radically, partly because Indigenous publishers seek to produce texts that accord with Indigenous modes of address and narrative strategies. Daisy Utemorrah and Pat Torres’ Do Not Go Around the Edges (1990), for instance, is a strikingly dialogic text: Utemorrah’s autobiographical story is placed along the bottom of the pages, while her poems are placed in the body of each page, framed within Pat Torres’ illustrations. The border that runs along the lower edge of each page features the three sacred beings known in Wunambal culture as Wandjinas, orienting the various narrative and thematic strands

40 See Bradford, Reading Race, pp. 159–90. 41 See Juliet O’Conor, ‘The Legends of Moonie Jarl: Our First Indigenous Children’s Book’, LaTrobe Journal, 79, pp. 66–81. 42 See Jennifer Jones, ‘Deemed Unsuitable for Children: The editing of Oodgeroo’s Stradbroke Dreamtime’, Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, 16.2, pp. 156–61.


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of the book in relation to the ancient stories of the Dreaming. Relationships between these strands are elusive, as most of the poems in the book connect only tangentially with Utemorrah’s autobiographical story. Readers accustomed to the reading practices usual in Western picture books will search in vain for thematic and symbolic interactions between verbal and visual texts, and this very complexity disrupts any simplistic notion that Do Not Go Around the Edges can be read as a mixture or blending of elements from different cultures. Rather, its multiplicity of narratives and systems of meaning destabilises the domination of British culture and standard English. A priority of Magabala and IAD Press, as in Indigenous publishing houses in New Zealand and Canada, has been the production of picture books, and it remains the case in all three literatures that there are relatively few Indigenous novels for young adults. Australian Indigenous novels for older readers and young adults include Melissa Lucashenko’s Killing Darcy (1998) and Anita Heiss’s Who Am I? The Diary of Mary Talence (2001). Meme McDonald and Boori Pryor have collaborated on several notable novels: My Girragundji (1998), The Binna Binna Man (1999) and Njunjul the Sun (2002). These texts proceed from the assumptions and worldviews of Indigenous protagonists and take for granted the role of spirit figures in the lives of contemporary Indigenous people. They are double-voiced, in that they imply two audiences: young people of the cultures in which they are produced; and non-Indigenous readers for whom they are both comprehensible and emblematic of alterity.

The past, again Historical fiction, as Maurice Saxby observes, has ‘been slow to emerge’43 in Australian children’s literature, unlike its pervasiveness in British and American writing for children. Over the last decade, however, fiction for children and young people has engaged with changes in the discipline of history and with Australian debates over what counts as history. Catherine Jinks’ five Pagan novels, featuring the progress of a 12th-century boy from squire to archdeacon, conduct a self-conscious and parodic account of the 12thcentury setting, interpolating modern preoccupations and values into the mediaeval world in a way that exposes epistemological and ideological differences between the mediaeval setting and the time of the novels’ writing. In doing so, the Pagan novels undermine the idea that historical fiction can deliver the past, untrammelled by the values and views of the time of its production. In David Metzenthen’s Boys of Blood and Bone (2003) and Ursula Dubosarsky’s The Red Shoe (2006), narratives of individual progress intersect with mythologies of nationhood. In Boys of Blood and Bone, a double-stranded narrative tells the stories of two young men, in alternating sections: a contemporary character, Henry Lyon, who is temporarily 43 Maurice Saxby, The Proof of the Puddin’: Australian Children’s Literature, 1970–1990, Ashton Scholastic, 1993, p. 473.


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marooned in the rural town of Strattford when his car breaks down; and Andy Lansell, a young soldier from the same area, who fights and dies in the trenches in France. The novel’s treatment of the personal trajectories of the two young men interrogates those Australian mythologies which fix upon the Great War as the birth of nationhood. Its descriptions of military action resist the hero narratives that inform hegemonic versions of masculinity, focusing instead on the psychological, emotional and bodily experiences of young men caught up in processes that they do not understand. Through the novel’s interweaving of lives and stories in the two time-schemes, it lays claim to continuities of individual and cultural identity across time. When Andy, enduring trench warfare, thinks of home, his memories linger on the materiality of his life on the land: the smell of hay, the sounds of the farm, the sensations of physical work. The novel’s treatment of the contemporary setting of Strattford folds its culture and values into those of the earlier setting. The warmth and directness of its inhabitants mirror the same qualities in Andy’s army companions from Strattford, just as the pleasure Henry takes in the details of country life echoes Andy’s recollections of his home. These parallels enforce the sense that the country is the true Australia and its inhabitants proper Australians – as one character says of her impression of Andy from an old photograph, ‘I thought he looked so Australian. With those clear eyes that could look forever.’44 The romanticism and nostalgia of this version of Australia disguises the extent to which it is based on relations of inclusion and exclusion that centre on myths of nationhood. Dubosarsky’s The Red Shoe is set in 1954 in Sydney, as the Petrov affair reaches its climax. It examines the experiences of six-year-old Matilda, who lives with her family in a house full of secrets: her father, a merchant seaman, is deeply affected by his wartime experience; his brother, Uncle Paul, is in love with her mother; her elder sister Elizabeth has had a nervous breakdown; and the house next door is occupied by a mad old man who fascinates and terrifies Matilda. Interspersed through the narrative are excerpts from the Sydney Morning Herald for April 1954, including accounts of suicide, reports on incidences of polio and how to protect oneself from the H-bomb. These intimations of danger are kept at bay by strategies of repression, which include Elizabeth’s refusal to speak and Matilda’s inability to recall an incident that takes place during a family picnic at The Basin, when her father attempts suicide. The family’s fragile hold on stability is represented as homologous with the state of the nation, where intimations of disorder, illness and Cold War anxieties erupt through newspaper reports and overheard conversations, even as the appearance of normality is maintained: the Royal Show goes ahead; Matilda and her sisters see Roman Holiday; and Queen Elizabeth visits Australia. In line with most children’s literature, The Red Shoe follows a humanistic direction in its preoccupation with the growth and development of an individual (Matilda) and her identity-formation. At the same time, its evocation of the 44 David Metzenthen, Boys of Blood and Bone, Penguin, 2003, p. 102.


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1950s is powerfully informed by 21st-century concerns about globalisation and state intervention. Tan’s The Arrival, part picture book and part graphic novel, tracks the journey of a refugee who experiences the bureaucratic rituals of immigration procedures and the confusion of one seeking to make sense of unfamiliar language and practices. Tan’s sepia drawings refer, among other intertexts, to early 20th-century photographs of immigrants processed at Ellis Island in New York. The refugee is befriended by other (former) refugees, and their stories of displacement and arrival are framed within the primary narrative. Like A Mother’s Offering, The Arrival engages with the predicament of migrants whose old-world knowledge and experience are insufficient to understand the new world. In A Mother’s Offering Mrs Saville mediates the narrative perspective, enabling the author to filter what readers should and should not know. In The Arrival, in contrast, readers are aligned with the refugee, through images presented through his eyes and in frames where viewers observe him as he observes. Both books describe strange creatures: in A Mother’s Offering, animals and plants that have no equivalent in Europe; in The Arrival, hybrid creatures that act as pets or familiars. In A Mother’s Offering the strangeness of Australian birds and fauna is a mark of exoticism, and the creatures themselves are either the objects of an admiring gaze, or potential trophies. In The Arrival the interplay between the protagonist and a particular creature (tadpole-shaped, the size of a small dog, with stumpy legs, a long tongue and curled tail) marks his progress from fear of the unknown to a wary engagement and finally the incorporation of the creature into the protagonist’s family, when he is reunited with his wife and daughter. Whereas A Mother’s Offering represents ‘Australia’ in relation to a normative Britishness that naturalises a white, middle-class sensibility, The Arrival foregrounds diversity: its endpapers comprise rows of passport-style portraits, bearing the signs of handling and (in some cases) damage, and showing people whose features, skin colour and clothing refer to differences of race, culture, age and religion. A Mother’s Offering positions its readers as citizens of a nation where non-Britishness is equated with inferiority and exclusion; The Arrival, in contrast, advocates openness to plurality: its final image shows the young daughter of the refugee (now citizen) giving directions to another arrival, so figuring the beginning of another narrative of arrival and inclusion. In material terms, the two texts exemplify the growth of Australian children’s literature. From Charlotte Barton’s minor and local work, published by the Sydney Gazette, children’s texts have become a crucial element of Australian literary production: in 2003, for instance, they comprised 16 per cent of all published books, generating $126.7 million.45 An indication of the growth of ‘quality’ publishing for children is the increase 45 Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Book Publishers, Australia, 2003–04’, (accessed 7 April 2008).


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in books nominated by publishers for the CBCA awards: 14 in 1959; 42 in 1963; 100 in 1984; and 315 in 2004.46 Despite their cultural and commercial significance, books for children in Australia receive relatively little attention in mainstream media. Few reviews appear in newspapers and literary journals and, in general, discussions of children’s literature in these publications are limited to debates over censorship and the appropriateness of themes and language (especially in books for young adults). Scholarly work on children’s literature has developed far beyond its beginnings in the 1960s, when courses on the pedagogical implications of children’s texts were first offered in teacher education institutions. Researchers in this field are located in a variety of disciplinary settings, including education, communication studies, cultural studies and literature. Children’s literature tends to occupy the margins of academic work in universities, in a similar way to the former marginalisation of Australian literature and women’s writing. Nevertheless, children’s literature studies attract large and increasing numbers of students in both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The foundation of the Australasian Children’s Literature Association for Research (ACLAR) in 1997, and the inauguration of the first Australian refereed journal, Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, in 1990, have been formative in the development of a community of scholars working in children’s literature. The internationalist orientation of Australian research in children’s literature is indicated by the fact that ACLAR is affiliated with the principal international professional body in the field, the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL), of which three Australians (Rhonda Bunbury, John Stephens and Clare Bradford) have been presidents. 46 Sheahan-Bright, ‘To Market, To Market’, p. 315.



Representations of Asia robin gerster

The Eastern bogeyman Visions of ‘the East’ have turned even the most unromantic Australian heads. Henry Lawson’s poem ‘The Tracks that Lie by India’, first published in the Bulletin in June 1905, finds the poet planning to return home overland, via the Indian subcontinent, after a projected trip to London. This is an itinerary familiar from the so-called hippie trail of the late 1960s and early 70s, but relatively unheard of in Lawson’s day. Not uncommonly for a Western male contemplating exotic Asia, his fancy turns to the women and the pleasures that await him there: ‘’Tis sweet to court some foreign girl with eyes of lustrous glow,’ he writes, ‘Who does not know my language and whose tongue I do not know.’ The poem ends with a foreign fantasy that recalls Banjo Paterson’s famous daydream of escape to the Bush from the ‘dusty dirty’ city and ‘the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal’. By contrast, Lawson’s own ‘vision splendid’ is dreamily Asian: The tracks that run by India to China and Japan, The tracks where all the rivers go – the tracks that call a Man! I’m wearied of the formal lands of parson and of priest, Of dollars and of ‘fashions,’ and I’m drifting towards the East; I’m tired of cant and cackle, and of sordid jobbery – The misty ways of Asia are calling unto me.1

It is almost as if Clancy had not gone to Queensland droving at all, but grown his hair, hopped onto a Qantas Boeing, taken to dope and started hanging out in an ashram. Of course Lawson never took the trip. Asia remained ‘misty’ to Lawson as it did for generations of Australians until the sea-change in both travel and imaginative patterns in the late 1960s. As Les Murray wrote in a review of C. J. Koch’s The Year of Living Dangerously (1978), it was ‘a band of mysterious darkness’ to most travelling Australians, a twilight zone ‘lying between their safe colonial world and the cool green spaces of ancestral Europe’. On this colonialist itinerary, ‘Asia’ was reductively concentrated into 1 Henry Lawson, ‘The Tracks That Lie by India’, in Henry Lawson: Collected Verse, vol. 2: 1901–1909, A&R, 1968, p. 134. The poem appears in the recent anthology, Noel Rowe and Vivian Smith (eds), Windchimes: Asia in Australian Poetry, Pandanus Books, 2006.


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a seedy seaport or perhaps a sweltering airport to spend a sticky, usually nocturnal hour or two while the airliner refuelled. The pilgrimage to Britain, passing through the ‘Far East’, on to the ‘Near East’ and then ‘Home’, may have been a cartographical absurdity, but was an antipodean rite of passage. Asia was out of sight if not quite out of mind. In his 1961 novel Bony and the White Savage, the prolific crime writer Arthur Upfield has a character define this continent’s northern coastline as ‘Australia’s backside pointing at the Asians’. This is a remark less likely to have been made after the social and political ferment of the Vietnam War and its aftermath. The Year of Living Dangerously was one of a batch of novels to appear in the era following the Vietnam War that seemed to signal a momentous generational reorientation of Australian affinities away from traditional affiliations in the northern hemisphere and towards Asian neighbours. Towards, indeed, precisely the kind of rejuvenating pilgrimage anticipated by Lawson – which makes ‘The Tracks that Lie by India’ a signally prophetic poem.2 It is hardly surprising that colonial Australian writers resorted to some of the descriptive habits of Orientalism famously analysed by Edward W. Said, that representational hegemony in which Europeans sought to define ‘degenerate’ Asian peoples as part of an all-embracing system of political, military, ideological, scientific – and, indeed, imaginative – control. Yet the ability of Said’s argument to travel east of Suez to the corner of the world occupied by Australia is problematic, and it would be glib to assert that Australians merely mimicked European Orientalists. As Said himself suggests in Culture and Imperialism (1993), Australia belongs to the same camp as ‘the Orient’, India and Africa, as a periphery ‘dominated’ by the West: he notes, for example, British views of Australians as an ‘inferior race’. In recent years, a period marked by critical concepts of post-colonial identity, the sense of shared colonial heritage and shared, if regionally distinctive, tensions with imperial centres has led some Australian writers to respond to Asia with solidarity rather than superiority. Perhaps this is a by-product of the ‘empire writes back’ phenomenon analysed by the Australian academics Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin in their important study of post-colonial discourses. Nonetheless, during much of the 19th century, the period of Said’s critical focus, it was crucial to White Australia to see itself as an outpost of British conquest, ‘outpost’ signifying a state of constant anxiety about its vulnerable geographical situation. Colonial Australian writers subscribed to prevailing imperial ideologies in representing Asia as not only essentially and irretrievably ‘different’, but as backward and barbarous and in dire need of Britain’s benign civilising influence. Their interests, however, were more inward and self-directed than outward and altruistic.3 2 Les Murray, review of C. J. Koch, The Year of Living Dangerously, Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Oct. 1978; reprinted in Murray, Persistence in Folly: Selected Prose Writings, Sirius, 1984, p. 40; Arthur Upfield, Bony and the White Savage, A&R, 1987, p. 49. 3 See Edward W. Said, Orientalism [1978], Penguin, London, 1995, esp. pp. 2–3; Said, Culture and Imperialism, Chatto & Windus, 1993, p. 127; Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures, Routledge, 1989; Alison Broinowski, The Yellow Lady: Australian Impressions of Asia, OUP, 1992, on Australian regional anxieties.


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Nineteenth-century Australian writers had trouble defining their countrymen and women as characters in Asia without explicit reference to their imperial identity. As if automatically, they became brazenly British once they left their native shores. They did so literally and legally as well, for it was not until Australian citizenship was created under the Nationality and Citizenship Act of 1948 that the words ‘Australian Passport’ replaced ‘British Passport’ on the document cover. Looking at Asia with imperial eyes often meant nostalgic reflections on the heroism and enterprise of the British peoples in colonising so much of the Oriental world. In essence, to be white in ‘the East’ was to be English. Such was one of the fundamental cultural and political lessons of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901), the paradigmatic Asian narrative for generations of Australian writers from colonials such as Guy Boothby to moderns like C. J. Koch. The practice of the English protagonist bearing the burden of encountering Asia was to prevail until well into the 20th century, partly because the novels were often produced by English publishers for English readers. And many of the writers themselves, from Boothby and popular novelists such as Carlton Dawe through to Dale Collins, were expatriates living and writing in Britain. But underlying these practical considerations was the assumption that, as Adrian Vickers has remarked, issues of significance ‘were best explored through a common Western identity, an identity centred in England’.4 Australian Asian travellers of the 19th century were inveterate practitioners of the colonial sneer. This was directed not only at the local populations but toward the regional administrations of rival colonial powers like the Dutch in the East Indies and the French in Indochina – places regarded by some Australian travellers of the time as hardly worth the trouble. Perhaps the seminal Australian travel book, James Hingston’s two-volume The Australian Abroad (1879–80), is largely receptive to Asia. ‘Going through the East’, Hingston writes, ‘gives us something Eastern in nature, orientalizing our ideas to a degree of which we are not perhaps fully conscious.’ Yet his depiction of the malarial swamps of Cochin China (now Vietnam) and Cambodia is replete with contemptuous references to its ‘purgatorial’ environment and its ‘nasty’ people as a putdown of pitiful French imperial pretensions in the region. Even the jewel in the British Empire’s crown, India, comes in for some genial mockery, though it lacks the edge of John Lang’s Wanderings in India (1859), in which aristocratic Indian life is a laughable parody of civilisation, fit only for sniggering satire.5 The Asian writings of Alfred Deakin, one of the prime-movers of the Federation movement in the 1890s and a future three-time prime minister, further illustrate the resistance of Australian nationalists to the development of an independent sense of regional belonging. Deakin was an advocate of closer Australian ties with Asia decades before it became political etiquette. In Irrigated India (1893), for instance, he advocated Australian 4 Adrian Vickers, ‘Kipling Goes South’, Australian Cultural History, 9 (1990), pp. 66–7, 77–8. 5 James Hingston, The Australian Abroad: Branches from the Main Routes Round the Word, series 1, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1979, p. 476; John George Lang, Wanderings in India (1859): see extract in Robin Gerster (ed.), Hotel Asia: An Anthology of Australian Literary Travelling to ‘the East’, Penguin, 1995, pp. 54–67.


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‘communion’ with India as ‘the nearest great country to us’. But it was an India reconstituted by the providential benefits of British rule that Deakin admired, an India that was Britain’s ‘superb dominion’, won by heroism and ‘held in defiance of all adverse fortunes’.6 The inability of colonial Australians in Asia to see themselves as anything other than British is distant but direct evidence of what in the 1950s became identified by A. A. Phillips’ memorable tag, the ‘cultural cringe’. Deakin’s contemporary G. E. (George Ernest) Morrison provides perhaps the quintessential example. Traveller, journalist, international wheeler-dealer and sometime medico, Chinese Morrison is one of the most commanding home-grown Australian literary figures of the late Victorian age. The son of the principal of Geelong College, where he was born and schooled, Morrison had travelled extensively around Australia before settling in China in 1893, the country in which he was to forge a distinguished career in journalism and diplomacy and which gave him his enduring nickname. In 1880 he had walked from Melbourne to Adelaide; around that time he had journeyed to north Queensland to investigate the so-called blackbirders for the Melbourne Age, denouncing it as ‘the Queensland slave trade’. In 1883, a little more than 20 years after the doomed expedition of Burke and Wills, he successfully walked from one end of Australia to the other, backtracking their route from north to south – alone. He knew the region too, having sailed the South Seas and leading an expedition into New Guinea, where (of course) he was speared by natives. Morrison was proudly patriotic and an avowed nationalist. Placed in an Oriental context, however, he turned into a raging imperial jingo. In Peking he made his international name reporting in 1900 on the Boxer Uprising for The Times of London, writing, as he says in his famous dispatch describing the bloody siege of the foreign legations, ‘as an Englishman’.7 Chinese Morrison actually never bothered to learn much of the language during his many years in China, though he occasionally liked to dress up in local clothing and sported a queue on his cross-country travels. Not surprisingly, his dispatches were full of half-truths and racially directed misreadings. Perhaps Morrison is best known for the literary record of his awesomely long walk, all of 3000 miles, from Shanghai to Burma, undertaken in 1894. Its title, An Australian in China (1895), is an unequivocal statement of national self-definition. He had gone to China, he says, ‘with the strong racial antipathy to the Chinese common to my countrymen’; the journey replaced that with ‘lively sympathy and gratitude’. And by and large the book is well disposed to the country, though Morrison dwells with relish on horrifying provincial practices such as infanticide, of dead and sometimes living children thrown out like garbage to be eaten by dogs (about 10 pages later the Chinese are lauded as treating children with ‘more kindness and affection’ than any other people). But underlying his cocky account of his modus operandi travelling as a foreign devil around the backblocks of China is a catalogue 6 Alfred Deakin, Irrigated India (1893), extract in Gerster, Hotel Asia, pp. 82–3. 7 See ‘The Siege of the Peking Legations’, The Times, 15 Oct. 1900, p. 6.


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of colonialist assumptions that reveals much about how an Australian of his era and gender saw himself vis-`a-vis Asia: On my journey I made it a rule . . . to refuse to occupy any other than the best room in the inn, and, if there was only one room, I required that the best bed in the room, as regards elevation, should be given to me. So, too, at every inn I insisted that the best table should be given me, and, if there were already Chinese seated at it, I gravely bowed to them, and by a wave of my hand signified that it was my pleasure that they should make way for the distinguished stranger. When there was only the one table, I occupied, as by right, its highest seat, refusing to sit in any other. I required, indeed, by politeness and firmness, that the Chinese take me at my own valuation. And they invariably did so. They always gave way to me. They recognised that I must be a traveller of importance, despite the smallness of my retinue and the homeliness of my attire; and they acknowledged my superiority.8

The radical nationalism of late-19th-century Australia, described by Humphrey McQueen in A New Britannia (1970) as ‘the chauvinism of British imperialism, intensified by its geographic proximity to Asia’, may well have celebrated an ideal of ‘native’ egalitarianism in opposition to class-riddled England.9 But it was an ideal that excluded both the Indigenous peoples and the coloured races from neighbouring countries to the north. Dating back to concerns about the influx of Chinese during the gold rushes, both colonial policy and cultural debate in the final decades of the century were dominated by the spectre of the Yellow Peril, of hordes of Orientals overrunning capacious Australia. Even Morrison was implacably opposed to Chinese migration. With a strange ‘sensory nervous system’ that made them impervious to pain and suffering, the Chinese were more a different species than a different race. Like some animal version of the prickly pear (Morrison actually calls them ‘working animals of low grade but great vitality’), they would take over the landscape and ‘starve out’ the white population. You cannot compete with them and you certainly cannot marry them.10 The use of degrading epithets to define the threat of Chinese migrants in the colonial period is exampled by Paterson’s famous ballad ‘A Bushman’s Song’ (1892), whose attack on the use of Chinese labour during the shearers’ strike in the early 1890s contains a sneering reference to the appearance of ‘the leprosy’ in Australian shearing sheds. Asia was less to be contemplated as a destination than some kind of dystopian national destiny. Newspaper cartoonists in the latter years of the 19th century had used images of hideous, pigtailed ‘Mongols’ invading the space – a comfy armchair, a large room – inhabited by the popular personification of innocent white Australia, the Little Boy from Manly. The main literary conduit of the belligerent Australian chauvinism of the period, the Bulletin, tirelessly campaigned against Chinese migration in support of White Australia. 8 George Ernest Morrison, An Australian in China, Horace Cox, 1895, pp. 229–30; infanticide, love of children: pp. 101, 113. 9 Humphrey McQueen, A New Britannia, rev. edn, Penguin, 1976, p. 21. 10 Morrison, An Australian in China, pp. 104, 223.


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In 1886 its cartoonist Phil May notoriously created the emblem of an Oriental octopus throttling the life out of Australia to denote the horrors of a Chinese takeover: fully a century later, the image was recycled to provide a scary image of the modern Japanese penetration of Australian tourist resorts and facilities.11 At this most vehement period of anti-Chinese scare-mongering, the final two decades of the 19th century, newly opened Japan became the Oriental object of Australian fascination and even admiration. In 1889, the Australian traveller, teacher and distinguished scholar James Murdoch, whose three-volume A History of Japan (1903–26) remains one of the great historical surveys of the country, reported that ‘Australian popular opinion is wonderfully favourably inclined towards Japan and the Japanese’.12 A once-sequestered, culturally impenetrable country had started revealing a seductive image of itself to the world, albeit one largely decoratively limited to the vases, screens and fans that had become modish in Australia as in Europe. The Japanese people themselves were popularly regarded as picturesque and harmless, both ‘queer and quaint’, as the chorus of nobles sing in the opening song of the opera that did so much to stereotype the Japanese in the Western mind, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, which had a successful season in Sydney in 1885. In ‘Felix Holt Secundus’, the autobiographical central story of Murdoch’s Tales from Australia and Japan (1892), a young journalist travels steerage from Sydney to Japan via the East Indies and Indochina, enduring a passage crowded with ‘niggers’ and Chinese who are variously calumniated as ‘the Yellows’, ‘the saffron curse’, ‘Chinkies’, ‘Chows’ and ‘odiferous Celestials’. But the trip was worth it, for the vertiginous mountainscapes of Japan are ‘indescribable’, a ‘dreamland’. In The Australian Abroad Hingston makes an even bolder distinction. Habitually he compares the Indian ‘Hindoo’, the Chinese and the native Malays of Singapore with dogs; but his admiration for a pre-modern Japan as ‘a land of the picturesque’ populated by ‘nature’s gentlemen’ is boundless. It also provides the promise of the personal renewal anticipated by Lawson’s Asian reverie: ‘Any one who wishes to get away from himself for a time – to seek “fresh woods and pastures new” – will find the newest and freshest in the land of the Rising Sun.’13 But by far the most intriguing literary exploration of the Australian–Japanese encounter, and an epochally significant text by any measure, is Rosa Praed’s novel Madame Izan (1899). Queensland-born Praed lived most of her adult life in England, visiting Nagasaki and Kyoto on the way back to Britain after a short visit to her homeland in 1895, a trip reflected in the novel. Already we can see in Madame Izan (subtitled ‘A Tourist Story’), the use of the travel motif as a critical tool to dismantle and ridicule Australian attitudes towards Asia. One of Praed’s cohort of four travelling Australians is a travel writer; her brother is an archetypal Queensland squatter, John Windeatt, with 11 See Broinowski, The Yellow Lady, p. 9. 12 David Walker, Anxious Nation: Australia and the Rise of Asia, 1850–1939, UQP, 1999, p. 66. 13 James Murdoch, From Australia and Japan, Walter Scott, 1892, pp. 37–9, 42, 44, 72, 77; Hingston, The Australian Abroad, pp. 87, 91.


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little patience for Japanese culture. In Kyoto, for example, he complains of suffering ‘temple indigestion’. Such is the satirical weight of Praed’s picture of Windeatt that the perception that he comes from ‘a crude, unpolished nation’ brooks no readerly argument. This, even though the assessment comes from a hardly impartial source, the Japanese guide Kencho, with whom he vies for the eponymous heroine’s affections. (It also turns out that the Japanese is actually married to Madame Izan, who is blind; the novel’s plot is improbable.) Given to introducing himself as ‘I’m an Australian’, Windeatt is admired as a ‘magnificent type’ and a ‘splendid Australian Apollo’. But he is culturally dwarfed by the diminutive Kencho, ‘a man of knowledge and artistic perception, cultivated far beyond the ordinary standard’. Madame Izan’s rejection of the Australian in favour of his Japanese rival signals a realignment of cultural affiliations. Windeatt wants to put the ‘heathen Jap’ Kencho ‘in his place’. But the Jap gets the girl.14 Mocking a bushman, albeit from the safe distance of Britain, was an iconoclastic thing for an Australian writer to do in the 1890s, at a time when nationalistic sentiment was spruiking the Bush as the heartland of the emerging nation. Having him rejected by an Australian woman for a Japanese was even more mischievous, for Japan was beginning to flex alarming military as well as cultural muscle. The Japanese victory over the Chinese in the first Sino-Japanese war of 1895, fought for control of Korea, had demonstrated a shift in regional dominance from China to Japan. Now there was another, and evidently deadlier, Oriental power to contend with, as if Japanese migration to the Queensland cane-fields and north-western pearling ports (small-scale as it was) was not alarming enough. When the Immigration Restriction Bill was making its tortuous progress through the new Australian Parliament in late 1901, much of the debate was devoted to the Japanese. This is a point made by F. M. Foxall’s Colorphobia (1903), in which the ‘diabolical’ White Australia Policy is diagnosed as a toxic mix of industrial and commercial protectionism and immature race phobias, imaginary terrors created by systematic racial misrepresentation. Colorphobia is prefaced with a snatch of contemporary popular song: ‘Whisht! Whist! Whist! / Here comes the bogey man!’15 Fears of Japan intensified after its stunning naval victory over the Tsar’s Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905, the first Asian naval defeat of a European power. The racial politics of the event were irresistible. In his poem ‘The Vanguard’ (1905), Lawson responded to the historical moment by resorting to the Australian self-image as an ‘outpost of the White’. Marking the Russo-Japanese War as ‘the first round of the struggle of the East against the West’, Lawson barracks loudly for the Russians, as ‘the vanguard of the White Man’. ‘Hold them, Ivan!’ he pleads. But Nippon as well as Britannia now ruled the waves. A year later, in ‘To be Amused’, Lawson hectors his fellow countrymen and ‘white men from all the world’, to awake from their complacent lethargy and ready 14 Rosa Campbell Praed, Madame Izan: A Tourist Story, Chatto & Windus, 1916 edn, pp. 25–26, 180, 200, 201. 15 E. W. Foxall (‘Gizen-No-Teki’), Colorphobia: An Exposure of the ‘White Australia’ Fallacy, R. T. Kelly, 1903, p. 62.


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themselves for the forthcoming struggle for possession of ‘the outpost of the white man’s race’, envisaged explicitly as a racial struggle as the ‘yellow millions’ covetously eye the empty continent to their south. C. E. W. Bean, soon to enshrine the bushman as the exemplary Australian hero in his role as the official historian of the Great War, set down the harsh geopolitical facts. ‘There are some three million whites in Australia inhabiting three million square miles’, Bean wrote in the London Spectator. ‘To the north, at its very gates, up to within a day’s sail, are eight hundred million Orientals.’ Three men to hold Australia against every eight hundred, warned Bean, ‘that is the quality of the danger’.16 The vigorous dystopian literature of imagined invasion that flourished in Australia in the pre-Commonwealth years, such as William Lane’s first novel, White or Yellow? A Story of the Race War of A.D. 1908 (1888), had concentrated on the Chinese bogey. After their brilliant success against the Russians, the newly confident Japanese were considered the Asians most likely to flesh out the terrifying arithmetic of Bean’s prognosis. C. H. Kirmess’ The Commonwealth Crisis, serialised in the popular journal the Lone Hand in 1908 and 1909, imagines a Japanese conquest and colonisation of the continent’s vulnerable northern spaces, stoutly defended by a volunteer force of Australian bushmen self-styled the White Guard. Numerous such invasion scenarios were imagined.17 The Japanese were looking unstoppable. Some nervy Australian writers even had intimations of global apocalypse. In Girl from Nippon (1915), the prolific Carlton Dawe unleashed his own evil Japanese genius hell-bent on wiping out the entire Western world. A certain ‘yellow toad’, Dr Mohri – an Osama bin Laden of his day – develops a chemical concoction which he uses to fatal effect on various English cities, destroying whole populations, with the ultimate aim of ensuring the humiliation of the white man and the victorious global march of Dai Nippon. Apparently the merchants of doom achieved their purpose. Hilda Freeman, a young Australian woman living in Germany at the outbreak of war in 1914, dreaded Japan’s entry into the war as it would automatically lead to an attack on her homeland. ‘I had a horrifying vision of the Japanese invasion of Australia,’ she wrote. ‘I saw our lands laid waste and our homes devastated.’ Her fears flew in the face of contemporary fact. As it happens Japan turned out to be a useful ally in the Great War. The Ibuki, one of the feared battlecruisers of the Japanese Imperial Navy, helped escort the first contingents of the AIF to the Middle East from September 1914, shepherding the convoy across the German-infested waters of the Indian Ocean. As a boy in the late 1920s, Murray Elliott, later to write a fine memoir of the Occupation of Japan, struggled to correlate an intimidating calendar of the slant-eyed humanoid octopus on the kitchen wall with four flags he discovered in a cellar drawer – the British, the French, the Italian and a strange one with a large red 16 Henry Lawson, ‘The Vanguard’ and ‘To Be Amused’, in Collected Verse, vol. 2, pp. 135–6, 221–2; Bean quoted in Gavin Souter, Lion and Kangaroo [1976], Pan Macmillan, 1992, p. 139. 17 For a discussion of invasion literature see Robert Dixon, Writing the Colonial Adventure, CUP, 1995, ch. 8; David Walker, Anxious Nation, chs 8, 9.


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spot in the centre with radiating red spokes spreading to the perimeter. No-one had told him that Japan had been Australia’s friend during the recent conflict.18 War with Japan did of course come to pass. The Yellow Peril finally assumed a tangible shape; the ‘sweet and smiling nation’ celebrated by Rosa Praed in Madame Izan bared its teeth.19 Japan’s military aggression and manifest wartime brutality seemed to prove that the contumely directed at rampaging Orientals was correct all along. This military contextualisation of Australian anxieties about Asia suggests the way in which war has ruinously acted as a dominant historical agent in defining Australian relationships with Asian peoples. A sequence of military engagements in what might broadly be called Oriental theatres against Oriental adversaries has exacerbated the latent Asiaphobia of an historically insecure country. The list is long, and includes the Chinese Boxers at the turn of the century; the Turk in the Great War; the Japanese in the 1940s; the ‘Reds’ in Korea in the early 1950s; and later participation in the British action against Malayan-Chinese Communists during the Malayan Emergency, the Vietnamese in the 1960s, the Iraqis in the Persian Gulf in 1991, and contemporary encounters there and in Afghanistan. Notions of the ‘East’ as ‘Enemy’ extended beyond the historical parameters of the conflicts themselves; this can be seen in the vilification of the Japanese in the years after World War II, as memories festered even while economic and touristic links strengthened. The most searching enactment of this cultural phenomenon, John Romeril’s The Floating World (1974), dramatises the crack-up of a former prisoner-ofwar of the Japanese during a post-war return to Japan on a ‘Women’s Weekly Cherry Blossom Cruise’. During the war itself the view of the Japanese as an outrageously vicious, subhuman antagonist had more than a little to do with his Oriental Otherness. In his novel of air warfare in the South-West Pacific, Island Victory (1955), Norman Bartlett, for instance, writes of an enemy who was ‘enormously more a stranger than a German or an Italian, fellow products of Western Christendom, could ever be’.20

Embracing Asia Australian fears of Asian invasion were both indistinguishable from and intimately related to associations of the East with unbridled lasciviousness. The yellow hordes did not just want to pillage the country, they wanted to ravish the women too. Even as late as the Vietnam War era, the geopolitical idea of the domino theory, justifying Australian participation in the war, was built on the perceived ‘downward thrust’ of a rapacious Red China. The sexual threat was even more baldly expressed in Lawson’s day. ‘See how the yellow-men next to her lust for her’, he wrote in his battle-cry to Australia’s sons, ‘Flag of the Southern Cross’ (1887). In T. R. Roydhouse’s The Coloured Conquest 18 Hilda Freeman, An Australian Girl in Germany, Specialty Press, 1916, p. 105; Murray Elliott, Occupational Hazards, Griffith University, 1995, p. 2. 19 Praed, Madame Izan, p. 178. 20 Norman Bartlett, Island Victory, A&R, 1955, p. 88.


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(1903), the successful Japanese naval invasion of Australia is largely effected by the ability of sexually calculating, predatory Japanese sailors to seduce flirtatious young Australian women.21 Outside the military context in which Asia posed an explicitly masculine threat to passive Australian innocence, however, the common peacetime paradigm was that of the East as an explicitly rendered female space, ripe with erotic possibilities either denied or taboo at home. One of the most potent imperialist mythologies propagated by 19thcentury European writers was that of the Orient as a female realm begging for the benefit of Western (that is, male) penetration and mastery. Passive but irrational, sensual and supine, Asia needed controlling and organising for its own good. In part, this was the ideological rationalisation of fantasies of conquest that could be indulged at little moral, social or indeed financial cost. The trope of the ‘sensual East’ was anathema as well as a lure to colonial Australians, who were grappling at home with the cultural nightmare of miscegenation. Writing just before Australia attained nationhood, Dawe’s novel A Bride of Japan (1898) expressed a characteristic nexus of sexual and racial anxieties. The dread prospect of inter-breeding is treated in the disgraceful marriage of a decoratively drawn Japanese temptress, alternately construed as ‘a delicately dainty morsel of orientalism’ and ‘a piece of tinselled heathenism’, with a Britisher who increasingly sees himself as a ‘white man who had sold his birthright’. In fathering a ‘mongrel’ (that great Australian insult), he thinks he has become one himself. The child dies and the woman does too, but not before uttering this Kiplingsque aperc¸u about East being East and West, West: ‘Yellow is yellow and white is white, and between the two flows a river of conflicting currents.’22 The infiltration of the ethos of British colonialism into the Australian literary imagination in the early decades of the 20th century guaranteed the propagation of European myths of Asia as a place of testing and titillation for the visiting white male. Successive generations of popular novelists, from Dawe through Charles Cooper and F. J. Thwaites, to more recent exponents of the genre such as G. M. Glaskin and Jon Cleary, plundered the region for its exotic and erotic connotations. Asian femmes fatales were exquisite and accommodating, if occasionally treacherous; to a man the males were villainous and bloodthirsty, to be sorted out, quick smart. ‘Asia’ was custom-made for popular genres like the adventure story, the romance and the thriller. Woman writers were less liable to use Asia as the fodder of imperialist ideology than men. Nevertheless, as the gorgeous, empurpled India of Ethel Anderson’s quirky Indian Tales (1948) and The Little Ghosts (1959) suggests, women resorted to traditional and even by the 1950s dated colonialist constructions of Asia as avidly as men. (Anderson had lived in colonial India with her husband, a British officer in the Indian Army.) This is not to overlook the trenchant feminism of (for example) Mary Gaunt, whose literary impressions of her travels around 21 Henry Lawson, ‘Flag of the Southern Cross’, Henry Lawson: Collected Verse, A&R, 1967, pp. 8–9. See David Walker, ‘Shooting Mabel: Warrior Masculinity and Asian Invasion’, History Australia, 2.3 (2005), p. 89.3. 22 Carlton Dawe, A Bride of Japan, Hutchinson, 1898, p. 158; see also pp. 9, 62, 64, 122.


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northern Asia in 1913 and 1914 are alert to the travails of women in societies that are uncompromisingly patriarchal. ‘Nothing’, Gaunt twice assures her readers in A Broken Journey (1919), ‘nothing made me so ardent a believer in the rights of women as my visit to China.’23 In the contemporary era, the combined impact of feminism, anti-colonialism, queasiness about the deleterious effects of mass travel and the unpleasant association of traditional notions of the exotic East with forms of transnational criminal exploitation such as sex tourism, have led to a revisionary critique of the male construction of the Orient as a sexual free-for-all. In Robert Drewe’s A Cry in the Jungle Bar (1979), Dick Cullen is a shy and well-meaning, if paternalistic, Australian agricultural scientist, working in Asia for the United Nations to improve the lot of the people. On the grog, he turns into another beast altogether. Drinking in a nightclub in the Philippines, Cullen covets a naked woman erotically dancing among a throng of debauched Filipinos. ‘I am the biggest, strongest man in this room,’ he thinks to himself, ‘I am white and have money and brains enough’, and he is surprised, irritated and finally confused when the dancer seems oblivious to these ‘irrefutable’ facts. Cullen’s distorted fantasy of ‘salacious beauty, jungle women, the exotica showered on sultans and caliphs’ is ironically transmuted into a mirror of the arrogance of white Australian men who, however well disposed they might be to Asia, cannot dispense with inherited views of the region as a Pleasure Zone – a ‘nameless nightclub’ as it is defined in Drewe’s novel – where anything goes and ethical systems observed at home can be temporarily abandoned. Ironically, at the time male writers of serious fiction have sought to eschew or at least query the sexualisation of the East, some contemporary Australian women writers have reconstructed Asian men in escapist terms similar to those used by Australian men in fantasising about Oriental women. In novels by Blanche d’Alpuget and Inez Baranay, for example, Asia is less a sexual threat than a sexual promise, the chosen site for the reinvigoration of female lives physically and spiritually frustrated in dreary, maleoriented Australia. The female journalists at the centre of d’Alpuget’s novels Monkeys in the Dark (1980) and Turtle Beach (1981) both have encounters with absurdly eroticised Asian men. On assignment to report on the developing story of the Vietnamese ‘boat people’ washed up and incarcerated on Malaysia’s shores, the Sydney journalist Judith Wilkes first sees her love interest, the Tamil academic Dr Kanan, moving amid ‘an almost palpable cloud of violets’. He proves to be a disappointingly obtuse lover, and their liaison is aborted. It is unclear whether it is Kanan as an embodiment of what the narrator calls the ‘sexual wisdom’ of the Orient who is mocked, or Wilkes’ expectations of him. Certainly, her naivety is mocked, in falling for a ‘1920s Hollywood version of the East’. Both the limitations of the stereotype and the Australian reporter’s inability to see beyond it are exposed. Things are more cut-and-dried in Monkeys in the Dark. Alexandra Wheatfield, a journalist attached to the Australian embassy in Jakarta during 23 Mary Gaunt, A Broken Journey, Werner Laurie, 1919, p. 146.


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the turbulent Sukarno era, enjoys a fruity affair with a poet and political activist named Maruli. Her vulva becomes ‘as slippery as a slice of papaja’ in his mere presence; for his part Maruli likes to dignify his come-ons with home-grown profundity. ‘People say that if you make love and eat durians at the same time you do not know which you are doing.’ He advises the palpitating Wheatfield, her very name redolent of bland Australian openness: ‘Come my cock is beginning to ache.’24 The mythology of Asian sexuality remains as powerful for women as men. In high irony an Australian diplomat tells Kanan in Turtle Beach: ‘Only Indians know how to live. All wisdom arose in Mother India. India can teach the West how to live, including how to fuck.’ It is a reasonable piece of satire of Eastern ‘mystique’, but the joke is on the cynical, materialist, parochial Australian. ‘We did write a book about it’, Kanan says in reply.25 In Baranay’s The Edge of Bali (1992), the Australian ethnographer Marla Cavas – 40ish and fed up – stops over in Bali en route to Europe. Mesmerised by life in the artists’ colony Ubud, she starts researching ‘the effects of tourism in the developing world’, a typical post-colonial project of the time, the self-incriminating implications of which she is more or less aware. Marla’s research is put to one side as she indulges in an affair with a married Balinese, one of the local gigolos who target travelling Western women. With him she shares nights of delicious pleasure, eating ‘hairy’ juicy rambutans and ‘little fat’ sugar bananas while engaging in all manner of sexual congress, a ‘single intimate act’ of ‘kissing talking fucking sucking soaping massaging burning sandalwood finding words in the dictionary passing a kretek . . . ’. Implausibly, Marla takes leave from this exhausting activity to ponder how ‘calm and karmic’ is the nature of pleasure in Asia.26 ‘Karmic’ is of course the kind of word a post-1960s Western traveller would use. The myth of the Spiritual East is easily interchangeable with that of the Sensual East. For all their habit of looking upon Asia as a sort of geographical aphrodisiac, Australian writers have not been unreceptive to its metaphysical possibilities. Deakin sailed for India in November 1890 ostensibly to report on methods of irrigation in that country for the Melbourne Age, not the most transcendental of journeys. But at the time he was active in the Theosophical Society, an international group interested in the discussion and dissemination of Eastern spiritualism, especially Buddhism. Not surprisingly, his trip became a pilgrimage to significant Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist religious sites, described in two collections of his Age articles, Irrigation in India and Temple and Tomb in India (1893). Marie Byles, conservationist, vegetarian, bushwalker (and the first New South Welshwoman to graduate in law) well before these pursuits became fashionable, went on what was planned as a recreational expedition in 1938 through upper Burma into China. Described in Journey into Burmese Silence (1962), this proved to be the genesis, through a process of ‘ripening karma’, of a life-long commitment to the 24 Blanche d’Alpuget, Turtle Beach, Penguin, 1981, p. 135; Monkeys in the Dark [1980], Penguin, 1982, pp. 85, 114. 25 D’Alpuget, Turtle Beach, p. 210. 26 Inez Baranay, The Edge of Bali, A&R, 1992, pp. 195–6.


Representations of Asia

ideals and practices of Buddhism.27 In 1966 Byles’ contemporary Harold Stewart took up permanent residence in Japan, practising Pure Land Buddhism, teaching English, translating haiku and writing poetry strongly permeated by his beliefs, including his epical spiritual verse autobiography, the 12-part By the Walls of Old Kyoto (1981). But Deakin, Byles and Stewart were very much the exceptions. In an article published in the Argus in 1940, the Australian Japanologist Peter Russo remarked that 10 years’ effort interpreting Japan to Australians had impressed on him their lack of interest in Asian peoples and cultures. A person interested in Asia is ‘regarded as a bit of a freak,’ he complained.28 It took the geographically distant but socially intimate war in Vietnam to change that. The political decision to involve Australia in Vietnam’s internal affairs from 1962 reflected the culturally entrenched fears about Asia’s teeming millions and a geopolitical fixation with Chinese communism. But the reverberating social opposition to the war created the cultural and political circumstances by which new understandings and a new coming to terms could be reached with Asia. As Richard Neville wrote in Play Power (1970), Vietnam was the ‘One Great Youth Unifier’ that knitted together the disparate protest movements and so-called ‘counter cultures’ of the late 1960s and early 70s.29 The war provided a focus for an essentially haphazard shift in generational loyalties and orientations, a shift manifested in patterns of travel and imaginative engagement. Proclaiming solidarity with an Asian people’s battle with United States imperialism, many disaffected young people (often tertiary students who had either interrupted or completed their studies) turned ‘East’ – though the war in fact was the historical moment when, as Robert Hughes acerbically observed, Australia ‘stopped thinking about Asia as the Far East [and] realised it was the Near North’.30 In the words of a Janette Turner Hospital character, Asia was deemed to be ‘geographically closer to enlightenment’ than anywhere else.31 The Asian journey in the immediate post-1960s period took on the tone of one of the primary sources of tourism, the religious quest. Having rejected ‘the synthetic civilisation of America and its commercial concubines’, the young Australian traveller in Peter Loftus’ novel The Earth Drum (1972) travels to ‘the holy soil’ of Asia in order to ‘find out if it was still possible for men to be kind to each other’. In India Ink (1984), her collection of prose poems articulating her long involvement in India, Vicki Viidikas finds the rude ‘desire for life’ expressed by the Indian masses an enriching antidote to sterile Western modernity. Journeying through the country on a crowded train, she draws her legs ‘up away from the west, where innocence is murdered and everything’s a movie of violence and strength’. In India it is enough simply to be alive, ‘with the tides of people’.32 27 28 29 30 31 32

Marie Byles, Journey into Burmese Silence (1962), extracted in Gerster (ed.), Hotel Asia, p. 180. Peter Russo, ‘Australia and Japan’, Argus, 27 July 1940. Richard Neville, Play Power, Jonathan Cape, 1970, p. 19. Robert Hughes, ‘Refugee from the Paradise of the Average Man’, Australian, 27 Apr. 1968. Janette Turner Hospital, ‘Ashes to Ashes’, in Dislocations, UQP, 1987, p. 72. Peter Loftus, The Earth Drum (1972) in Gerster (ed.), Hotel Asia, p. 311; Vicki Viidikas, ‘Train Song 2’ India Ink (1984), in ibid., pp. 333–4.


robin gerster

It is not hard to put down this ecstatic Asian travelling to youthful lotus-eating. (And, perhaps, reading too much Jack Kerouac.) It was Australia, or more specifically the conservative Australia represented by their parents, that was being shunned as much as Asia was being embraced. The self-consciously basic, nomadic lives of young middleclass Westerners travelling through the region represented a vicarious parody of local poverty; when the going got too tough deliverance was just a cablegram home away. The Asian pilgrimage was a trip in other senses than spiritual. The road to Kathmandu, observes Neville, was ‘paved with cannabis’. ‘Enlightenment’ was often effected by the prevalence and affordability of drugs, rationalised as a kind of reward. ‘How can you refuse a joint extended by a dazzling blonde tramp at a charcoal fireside in Kabul, having just survived a two-hundred-mile desert journey?’, he asks. Neville romanticises the young drifters as ‘anti-lemmings’, the world’s last great travellers before it subsides into ‘a deathly sea of uniformity’. Yet the various hippie trails crisscrossing Asia did establish the idea of the journey as a worthwhile act in itself. Compared with the dutiful journey to Britain and Europe with its roster of monuments to be ticked off, Asia became associated with personal fulfilment, a finishing school of a kind. The journey became a consummating individual act. ‘No man could be finished until he had crossed countries, and watched’, remarks the blissful protagonist (a refugee from suburbia who ‘finds herself’ in an Indian ashram) in Christine Townend’s novel Travels with Myself (1976).33 Above all, in the Vietnam War era there is a portentous sense of the importance of Asia as the region that could determine national as well as individual destiny. The 1960s was the second great age, after the 1890s, of Australian cultural self-definition. It was the decade of Donald Horne’s The Lucky Country (1964), Geoffrey Blainey’s The Tyranny of Distance (1966), Robert Hughes’ The Art of Australia (1966) and the early volumes of Manning Clark’s History of Australia (1962, 1968). The emphasis was on the need to redefine what Australia was, is, and should become. Horne’s assertion that ‘we’re all Asians now’ – a daring proposition in 1964 – struck a chord. That perception was there earlier, of course. Australia